The extensive bream family (Sparidae) is distributed globally in temperate and tropical seas. The numerous members of this group (known as porgies in the US) are important commercial fish for many countries. Most bream have a round, deep, laterally compressed body with a long, single, spiny dorsal fin. They have a good covering of large scales across the body and head. Different species are identified by the teeth as a general rule. Many are marine fish, but some dwell in estuarine brackish waters or fresh water. Most are fairly small, not growing more than 40–70cm (16–28in) in length. They require careful trimming and scaling. With white, well-textured flesh, bream are at their best simply pan-fried.

Gilt head bream (Sparus aturata)

Gilt head is the most popular bream in Europe and is farmed throughout the Mediterranean. It has a lightly scaled, silvery skin with a spiny dorsal fin and a deep body with a distinctive gold band across the brow. Farmed fish has white, but firm flakes with a medium texture.

Black sea bream (Spondyliosoma cantharus)

Also known as old wife, the black sea bream is common to Northern Europe and the Mediterranean, where it is fished extensively. Like other members of the bream family, it is a shoaling fish. It is silvery in colour with black markings across the body. Considered to be one of the finest of the bream family for the table. It can be cooked whole or filleted: roasting, pan-frying, or grilling the fillets are all good uses of the fish. Its firm, white-textured flesh is admired in the Mediterranean.

Black spot bream (Pagellus bogaraveo)

Also known as red sea bream and pandora, this fish is found in the East Atlantic and the West Mediterranean. An hermaphrodite, it becomes female at between 20–30cm (8–12in) in length and can reach up to 70cm (28in), but the usual landed specimen is around 30cm (12in). Excellent flavour, slightly herbaceous with firm white fillets. Delicious roasted, grilled, and en papillote.

Yellow fin sea bream (Acanthopagrus latus) 

Found in the Indo-West Pacific, yellow fin sea bream dwells in fresh, brackish, and marine waters. It is used in Chinese medicine and is popular for recreational fishing.

Golden threadfin bream (Nemipterus virgatus)

There are around 60 species in the Nemipteridae group (called false snappers or whiptail bream). This one, known as hung san in Hong Kong, is a dainty fish with pink and yellow tinges to the fins and a yellow thread to the tail. It is an important commercial fish in the East China Sea. A very delicately flavoured, fine, white-textured fish. Simply pan-fried or grilled is ideal.

Red sea bream (Pagrus major)

Also known as dorade in France, and red tail or red porgy in the USA, this fish has delicate bluish markings when very fresh. Red sea bream is served at special occasions, such as weddings, in Japan, and is used in Chinese medicine.

Bogue (Boops boops)

Another member of the bream family, this species is identified by its large eyes (boops is the Latin word for ox). It is caught in shallow inshore waters and reaches up to 35cm (14in) in length. It is particularly enjoyed in Malta where it forms part of the Maltese soup aljotta.

Dentex (Dentex dentex)

Another member of the Sparidae group, the native range of this species is in the East Atlantic to the Black Sea. It is a predatory fish, feeding off other species of fish. Generally, it lives a solitary existence, and can grow up to 1m (3ft 3in) in length, although the average size is 20–25cm (8–10in). Popular in the Mediterranean cooked with tomatoes, olives, olive oil, marjoram, and thyme and in North Africa with cumin, coriander, and fennel.

CUTS Whole; fillets, often with skin on (after scaling); thick steaks (larger species).

EAT Cooked: Pan-fry, grill, bake, stuff.

FLAVOUR PAIRINGS Fennel, Pernod, coriander, lemon, saffron, parsley, garlic.

CLASSIC RECIPES Bream en papillote; besugo al horno (a classic festive Spanish dish).


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