With more than 70 different types found in Pacific waters, rockfish are versatile medium-sized fish that can be prepared in countless ways. Rockfish are found primarily along the Pacific coast, not to be confused with Atlantic striped bass, which are also called rockfish locally. True Pacific rockfish, sometimes marketed as ocean perch or Pacific snapper, has a semi-firm texture and mild flavor that lends itself to a variety of cooking methods, whether you want to cook them on the stovetop, in the oven or on a hot grill.
In the Pan
Rockfish cooks up fast and easy on the stovetop, since the fillet is rather thin. Season the fillets to your liking with salt, pepper and any other seasonings you prefer, such as garlic, chili flakes or fresh herbs. To impart more flavor into this mild fish, you can place the fish in a marinade of your choosing for an hour before cooking. Add the seasoned fillets to a hot, lightly oiled pan. If your fillets are skin-on, lay them skin side down. Cook on one side for about 2 to 3 minutes, or if skin-on, until the skin is crisp and starting to brown. Flip over and finish cooking, until the flesh is fully opaque and flakes easily with a fork. Serve the pan-seared fish with a flavorful pan sauce, such as a brown butter and lemon sauce, or an herb sauce with cilantro, basil and parsley.
Wrapped and Baked
Cooking rockfish fillets en papillote, or wrapped in parchment paper, makes for an impressive presentation. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit and brush the fillets lightly with olive oil. Season to your liking. Cut a large sheet of parchment paper into a heart shape. Place the fillets on one-half of the heart and fold the other side over it. You can also include finely chopped vegetables in the packet, laying the fish on top. Make 1/2-inch folds all around the edges to seal. Place on a baking sheet and bake for about 6 to 8 minutes, until the parchment is browned and puffed up. Serve the fish directly from the parchment paper, using a knife or scissors to open. You can also cook the rockfish wrapped in foil packets if you don’t have parchment paper.
On the Grill
To grill rockfish fillets, marinate the fish in an olive oil-based marinade and prepare your grill for direct, high heat. Place the fish fillets across the grill grates and cook for about 3 minutes, and then flip them over and continue cooking until the fillets are fully opaque and flaky. To grill whole rockfish, purchase a fish that has been gutted, scaled and has had its gills removed. Most fishmongers at the supermarket or fish market will do this for you before you take it home. Make a few deep slashes on both sides of the fish and stuff the cavity with aromatics, such as lemon slices, fresh herbs and garlic cloves. Coat the outside with olive oil and season to your taste. Grill the rockfish for about 5 to 6 minutes on each side, until the skin is crisp and browned and the meat looks fully opaque. Serve hot off the grill.
In the Fryer
Rockfish fillets can be breaded and pan-fried or deep-fried for an even crispier texture. To pan-fry, season the fillets with salt and pepper to your taste. Prepare your breading station by placing flour in a shallow bowl, beaten eggs into another and breadcrumbs in another. Season the flour and breadcrumbs for more flavor. You can use regular breadcrumbs, but panko-style crumbs tend to result in crispier, lighter fish. Dip the fillets first in the flour, and then the eggs and finally the breadcrumbs. Place them in a hot pan coated with oil, and cook until both sides are well browned and the flesh is opaque. To deep-fry the fillets, bread them in the same manner, or create a wet batter using flour, baking powder, milk or beer, salt and pepper. Place the breaded or battered fillets into a deep fryer or pot of oil heated to 375 Fahrenheit and cook until golden brown on all sides.
References and ResourcesSeafood Watch: Rockfish
Pac Seafood: Pacific Rockfish
Hollywood Farmers Market: Pan Seared Rockfish
Marcus Samuelsson: How to Perfectly Pan Sear Fish
Fine Cooking: Baking Fish in Paper
Fine Cooking: How To Cook en Papillote
Hunter Angler Gardner Cook: Simple Grilled Fish with Basil
Bon Appetit: How to Grill a Whole Fish, Step by Step
Orca Bay Seafoods: Rockfish Parmesan
Sunset Magazine: Beer-Battered Cod and Onion Rings