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The Fish Market

Flavorful Yellowtail Jack

June 05, 1986|ISAAC CRONIN and PAUL JOHNSON | Cronin and Johnson are co-authors of "The California Seafood Cookbook."

The yellowtail jack is the most common California member of a family of fish known collectively as the jacks. The jacks are widely distributed throughout the tropical and semitropical oceans of the world. Some of the more well-known members of this family are the highly esteemed Florida pompano, and the aquacultured amber-jacks of Hawaii, which are often sold live for use in the better sushi bars.

The yellowtail, well-known for its fighting spirit and great speed, is one of the most popular game fish in Southern California. The yellowtail jack is vertically compressed, with a slightly rounded body. Olive with a bright-yellow vertical line, it may grow to 100 pounds, although 30 pounds is closer to average. Squid, mackerel, anchovies and red crabs make up the bulk of its diet.

Commercially, the most productive grounds are near the Coronado Islands off Mexico where most of the fish is taken by purse seine. The Southern California catch is made up of smaller fish than that of Mexico, but because it is caught by hook-and-line, it is of much better quality and commands a higher price. Since the fish often is consumed raw in sushi bars, capture and freshness are of great importance. Hamaichi is the Japanese name used to identify yellowtail jack.

Yellowtail jack's delicately flavored, moist, off-white meat makes humans its greatest threat, but the prolific fish is in no danger of being overfished. The meat is somewhat like mackerel, although less oily, not as strong in flavor and firmer textured. Yellowtail is perfect for smoking or charcoal grilling. The firm texture and distinctive flavor mean it is suitable to just about any method of cooking, from poaching to raw presentation, and it stands up well to full-flavored ingredients. GRILLED YELLOWTAIL JACK WITH SOY MARINADE

1/4 cup soy sauce

2 tablespoons dry Sherry

1 teaspoon chopped ginger root

1 teaspoon chopped garlic

1 pound yellowtail jack fillets or steaks

1/4 cup chicken stock

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1 tablespoon warm water

Cilantro leaves

Combine soy sauce, Sherry, ginger and garlic in shallow dish and marinate fish 1 hour in refrigerator. Grill fish over hot coals, basting occasionally with small amount marinade. Keep fish warm.

Transfer remaining marinade to saucepan. Add chicken stock and bring to simmer. Combine cornstarch and water and add to stock in pan. When sauce thickens, pour over fish and serve garnished with cilantro. Makes 2 to 3 servings.

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