Red snapper is one of the great eating fish of the world, and will appear further up the list. But its populations are under pressure and you can't always get it. To fill the gap, the fish business supplies restaurants and a very few stores with other species in the snapper family. None are as good as red snapper, but they're far from bad.
Of these, the best is the mangrove snapper (also called the gray snapper). It's a bit bigger than a red snapper, and its flesh is slightly grayer, a touch firmer, and not as sweet (I don't know what other word to use). However, it grills up very nicely, and lends itself to dishes with sauces.
I've also encountered vermilion snapper and lane snapper here and there. Both are about half the size of a typical red snapper, but other than that I find them both similar. The lane snapper in particular is very tasty, and is tender and meaty enough that it can be broiled or fried whole, as Chinese restaurants do. I'd also like to try poaching this and serving it with hollandaise, or perhaps with an intensified version of courtbouillon.
None of these fish are seen with any consistency anywhere. Frank Brigtsen has offered them at his restaurant more often than any other chef I know. But now that you've been introduced, you'll know to try them if they turn up on your menu.
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