Fish on our mind, fish on your plate

FAO’s cookbook helps you know, cook and eat fish

FAO’s new fish recipe book features worldly recipes, like this Japanese cured mackerel dish featured above. It also helps consumers recognize various types of fish and presents interesting food and fish facts to reiterate that there can be no global food security without fish. ©FAO/Nik Neves


Fish provides more than 4.5 billion people around the world with a critical share of their daily protein requirements. For many, it’s an essential daily meal key for nutrition, health and well-being. And while fish may not be enough to ensure global food security, there will be no global food security without fish.

FAO’s Fish: Know it, cook it, eat it presents traditional recipes from dozens of countries and features dishes from celebrated chefs. But it also takes the reader on a journey to learn a whole lot more about fish and shellfish culture, science and trade. It additionally helps consumers recognize various types of fish, their origin and nutritional value. With its spectacular illustrations, interesting food facts, humorous fish “interviews” and tantalizing recipes, it is unlike any other fish recipe book.

To whet your appetite, we have selected four fish to get to know better and related recipes from around the world.

Mackerel and Japanese curing

Mackerel, a generic designation for some 30 species, prefers company, hanging out in large schools, with vast populations found along the shores of the North Atlantic and in the East China Sea. 

Torpedo-shaped, mackerel have shimmering skin that runs to silvery blues. Some have specks or stripes, calling to mind a marine zebra. Reassuringly, mackerel is still plentiful and remains affordable.

Brimming with omega-3 fatty acids, mackerel is nutritionally high-value. Far from greasy despite its high oil content, the fish feels rich and dense on the palate. You can grill it, roast it or smoke it. Finally, one more of mackerel’s culinary benefits: it has no scales or almost none.

One word of warning: mackerel spoils quickly. So if you are buying the fish fresh and whole, look for bright round eyes, like newly minted coins.

For an elegantly sparse recipe that requires no heat or cooking, try out this Japanese cured mackerel preparation. It is served as an appetizer with soy sauce and wasabi or else with lemon or grapefruit. 

Top/left: Hungarian fisherman’s soup. Bottom/right: Senegalese thieboudienne. ©FAO/Nik Neves

Carp and Hungarian fisherman’s soup

Although mislabelling and fish fraud is not uncommon around the world, there is little concern in buying the unmistakeable, common carp. Generally bought whole, carp is both generally inexpensive and easy to identify with its round, thick-lipped mouth and grey-brown latticed body.

The carp measures between 30–60 centimetres with thick scales. It is sometimes described as tasting “muddy”, but that’s more a reflection of where it lives and feeds, in other words, mostly at the bottom of lakes, ponds and reservoirs. Carp must be fresh: bought and eaten on the same day.

Situated amongst many rivers and lakes, Hungary is prime carp country and has a long tradition of aquaculture. The first fish farms were established here in the 1890s. Hungary is also the home of paprika and that makes for a happy marriage in preparing red hot halászlé or “fisherman’s soup”.

This soup consists of a rich, spicy stock made with chopped freshwater carp, tomatoes and hot peppers. The carp’s sturdy flavour stands up well to the fiery broth. Try your hand at it here!

Grouper and Senegalese thieboudienne stew

Hovering above the world’s coral reefs, groupers have bodies that really appear as misshapen lumps. The head is indistinct, and they have a mouth like a cauldron for swallowing their prey whole, crushing it nicely on the way down.

Ranging in colour from bright red to dull grey, the grouper varies in size across 160 species. The Atlantic goliath, for one, can grow to an impressive 2.5 metres.

Groupers may not win any beauty contests, but they make up for it in flavour. Their flesh is sweet, low in fat and have a moist, flaky texture.

Many grouper species are overfished. The goliath is critically endangered and is still protected in the United States of America and the Caribbean by restrictions introduced 30 years ago. If you want to ensure that your pick is fished sustainably, check the precise species and its location. The Black grouper from the Gulf of Mexico or South Atlantic Ocean, for example, is a safe choice.

When buying grouper, look for flesh that is firm, springy and moist. Fillets should be creamy white to soft pink.

In Senegal, the grouper makes its appearance in the country’s national dish, thieboudienne, a tomato-based stew often served with rice. You’ll often find thieboudienne made with chicken or beef these days, but our recipe sticks to the original.

Amazonian fish stew. ©FAO/Nik Neves

Pirarucu and Brazil’s Amazonian fish stew

Back in the late 1990s, pirarucu, one of the world’s largest freshwater fish, was thought to be close to extinction. Endemic to the Amazon, pirarucu has been brought back from the brink thanks to strict management programmes by Brazil’s Indigenous Peoples.

A carnivorous predator, pirarucu comes in at up to three metres and 200 kilograms. It has a python-like body and a tongue studded with teeth.

Brazilian nutritionists have identified the presence of 27 beneficial fatty acids in the fish – and with stocks now back at healthy levels, the fish has cropped up on menus in Brazil’s coastal cities. It’s recommended pirarucu be consumed in Brazil or neighbouring counties. If you’re replicating pirarucu dishes abroad, replace it with a sustainable alternative, like cod.

Our Amazonian fish stew, or moqueca, recipe features nutmeg, onion, parsley, dill, coriander and chives. It bears some resemblance to Louisiana’s seafood gumbo owing to both dishes’ African origin. Try it out here!

These are just some of the many fish and fish recipes to get to know in FAO’s fish recipe book or the gorgeous digital version available here. A last thought: the book features farmed fish alongside fish from capture, using the opportunity to differentiate fish farming facts from hearsay and alleviate some consumer concerns. Over half the global demand for fish is now met from aquaculture, helping relieve pressure on the oceans. In sum, the world needs to farm more fish, not less. As with all agricultural food systems, however, we must do so sustainably.

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2. Zero hunger, 12. Responsible consumption and production, 14. Life below water