Two species of kingfish appear in local seafood markets from New York to Florida. Northern kingfish and southern kingfish are marketed as “kingfish”. Other names for either species include roundhead, sea mullet, whiting, and king whiting.
Kingfish are members of the drum family of saltwater fish. Although small in size (1/2 – 3 pounds), kingfish resemble redfish, seatrout, and croaker.
The southern kingfish can be recognized by its long, slender body, underslung mouth, and barbel under the chin. Their sides are silver to gray in color, usually with a pattern of indiscrete bars.
The northern kingfish is nearly identical in size and shape. The most notable feature of this species is its color. The northern kingfish tends to be darker with 5 or 6 dark bars on the back. The fins are also dark, often with a blackish outline. Another distinguishing feature is its long, soft spine on the first dorsal fin.
Kingfish have a rich, slightly oily flavor, similar to seatrout. Smaller fish are usually cooked whole. Larger individuals can be filleted. Kingfish are suitable for frying, grilling, or fish chowder.