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Cobia: What it Tastes Like & How to Cook It

Cobia: What it Tastes Like & How to Cook It
Image: The Fisherman/Shutterstock

Cobia are a tasty saltwater fish that are often overlooked, though they are a fun gamefish that can be cooked in a wide variety of ways. They are sometimes also known as rachycentron canadum, ling, black salmon, or black kingfish (though they are not related to the yellow kingfish).

In this guide, we’ll go over what cobia tastes like, how to clean it, cook it, and get the most from your meal.

What Does Cobia Fish Taste Like? – The Short Answer

In short, cobia tastes mild and has a firm, broad-flaked flesh that’s white when cooked up and pinkish when raw. The mild flavor is also described as fresh, clean, and buttery. It adapts well to a variety of meal choices, including being grilled or enjoyed raw. 

Let’s dive more into the flavor palette in this guide. We’ll go into more detail on the cobia taste, texture, and how to cook this fish.

Cobia Taste

Whether grilled, steamed, roasted, or pan-fried, cooked cobia provides a mild taste that is often described as buttery. This mild fish doesn’t taste fishy and it pairs well with most great fish recipes. Tomatoes and onions can be particularly great with cobia. 

What Does Cobia Taste Like?
Image: Foodio/Shutterstock

When enjoyed raw, cobia has a fresh and clean taste that works well for sashimi. 

It’s been said that one of the great things about cobia is that if you leave it on the grill a little too long while you’re enjoying a drink or chatting up your friends, you’ll come back to find the fish is still moist and ready to go. Of course, it’s always better to keep a close eye on while grilling.

Cobia Texture

Cobia has a firm, white flesh when cooked. It’s notable that cobia’s texture is firmer than that of mahi-mahi or grouper (check out our culinary guide to grouper too). It’s a broad-flaked fish. Unlike other fish where the fat may cook off or break apart the meat, the fat in cobia stays in the meat providing more flavor and a better moisture content.

A fileted cobia “steak”. Image: TheFarAwayKingdom/Shutterstock

It’s worth noting that farm-raised cobia has a more consistent and higher fat content than the wild caught fish.

The small scales on the fish can be left on when thrown on a grill or pan-seared. The scales will crisp up nicely, providing a unique texture for the outside of this firm fish. 

How to Cook Cobia

Any person you meet who truly loves cobia likely has their own special way of cooking this fish. It can be enjoyed pan-seared, grilled, deep-fried, smoked, or even raw.

Image: ArtCookStudio/Shutterstock

Do you lean toward grilling your fish? This is a very popular cooking method for cobia. If you do this, ideally you want steaks that are one inch thick. Keep an eye on it. While it’s best not to overcook your fish, you do have a bit of leeway here as cobia can stay moist even when left on a bit too long. Don’t use foil, unless you’re really trying to cook this fish in a specific flavor profile. 

For a crisp outer edge, leave the skin on when you grill it. 

You can make excellent deep fried fish sticks with this firm white fish.

Are you in the mood for a pan-seared cobia? Again, leaving the skin on can make this crisp up nicely. 

This fish can also be enjoyed steamed or roasted. Pairing it with tomatoes and onions while roasting or steaming can be delicious. 

How To Clean a Cobia

The first thing to note is that as soon as you catch a cobia, you should clean it and put it on ice right away. This will help mitigate the risks of bacteria growth and issues with the higher mercury levels in cobia. 

If you’ve ever cleaned a round fish before, you’ll be ahead of the game for how to clean a cobia. If not, don’t worry! Our guide here will help you. 

Before you start cleaning the cobia, make sure your knife is as sharp as possible. This is a large fish. That means it also has big bones. The flesh will be a pinkish-tan color and fairly thick and firm, which will help you cut steaks. It does mean the knife you use on smaller fish won’t cut it here. Use a large and very sharp knife to do this fish justice. If your catch is particularly large, you may want to keep a honing steel nearby so you can touch up the knife as you go. 

  • When you’re ready, cut up the belly of the cobia. Start at the base and work your way up to the fish’s collar. Once it’s open, you will need to remove the guts. This may require the use of your knife or some kitchen shears to get the innards loose enough for removal. 
  • Once removed, you’ll want to clean up your work area. 
  • Now you can remove the head. Do this by cutting through the collar of the fish and then cutting it off. 
  • With the body of the fish clean and ready, you can cut cobia fillets. 
  • At the top of the backbone, begin a long cut to the tail. You may want to sharpen your knife again before you start this step. You’ll be cutting through some bones as you travel down along the spine. Cut the fillet away. You may need to use your knife or some clean pliers to neatly remove the rib bones from the fillet. 

During this process, if you wish to skin the fillets, you’ll want to do so one at a time. Skim the fish about an eighth of an inch from the edge. Some people prefer to leave the skin on, particularly if they’ll be grilling the fish, since the scales can crisp up nicely. 

Where To Find Cobia

Do you plan on going fishing for cobia? They’re not a common target for saltwater sportfishing, but with proper care they can make a great deal. These fish enjoy warm, tropical waters. They’re most popular in the Gulf of Mexico. Florida attracts a fair number of people fishing for cobia. In the winter months, they can be plentiful around the Florida Keys. 

They’re not the easiest fish to find if you don’t know what you’re looking for, since they are often alone or in small schools. They travel together most often while spawning. 

How To Catch Cobia

Image: Ian Scott/Shutterstock

While there is saltwater sportfishing for cobia, this fish is most commonly enjoyed farmed. Like many fish, cobia has a more consistent flavor and texture when farmed. These fish are scavengers, so their varied diet in the sea can affect their enjoyment as a meal. A lot of what creates the unique cobia taste is how this fish retains fat in the muscles when it’s cooked, making it moister. 

Wild cobia are also known for being high in mercury. Be sure to be thoughtful of this and moderate how much fish you’re eating if you decide to enjoy this fish from the wild.

That said, this is still a great fish for those who want to go after it. So how to catch cobia?

In Florida, it is not uncommon to see people sitting on the pier fishing for cobia. In the summer months, it’s possible to sight-fish, with bait held in front of the fish as it’s swimming along. 

Long-line or hook and line trolling are both common tactics. You’ll need to use a heavy duty line, since these fish can be quite large and powerful. You’ll want at least a 30 pound test line. 

For bait, if you’d like a lure, seek out something colorful to grab attention. If you can find colorful plastic lures that look like shrimp or fish, try those. If you’re looking for natural bait solutions, cobia love crab. They will also eat grunts, eels, and many other baitfish you have. Crabs are their favorite though as they make up half of their diet. You can use either live or dead natural baitfish for catching cobia.