Waking up at five o'clock is not the greatest way to start a Saturday morning. And as impressive as the hills of Palos Verdes may be in the light of day, in the pre-dawn hours they are obscured by the fog that often stays socked in their shadow, blurring the edges of the docks, buildings, ships and water of the Port of Los Angeles. But if you love to eat fish, you want to be here on a Saturday morning, sometime between the hours of 3:30 and 7:30, when the San Pedro fish markets, wholesale only every other day of the week, are open to the public. A long, pink building at the dead end of 22nd Street houses a number of vendors, the entrance to each opening up on a loading dock, large bins of complimentary crushed ice on hand for packing you purchase for the trip home.
Inside each seller, the crowd is surprisingly thick for so early in the morning, with a broad range of ages and races picking through boxes of live crabs, scooping up handfuls of sweet-smelling shrimp or checking the gills, eyes and sizes of a variety of whole fish--from smaller, single-serving species like mackerel or red snapper to impressively large tuna, mahi-mahi and salmon. Some frozen filets are available and icy lobster tails, but with the blood-red gills, clear eyes and shimmering skin of the fresh fish on hand, there's no contest between the fresh catch and those icy protein blocks. Prices are astonishingly low too--$2 to $3 a pound for whole tuna or salmon, with sardines and mackerel available for prices closer to a $1 a pound.
After a whole fish has been weighed and paid for, scaling, gutting and filleting can be done by the capable knives (and band saw) wielded at the gutting and cleaning stations each vendor has. This is far from the delicate grace of breaking down whole fish that you may have seen on Top Chef or other food TV shows--in fact, many opt for a few rapid cuts on a fast-whirring band saw, reducing a whole fish into so many steaks in a matter of seconds. Options are varied though, and any number of servings, skin on or off--or just a whole fish gutted and scaled--can be had, bones and head optional.
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Now that Pacific spiny lobster season has opened, check the markets for the local crustaceans.
San Pedro Fish Companies, located at the end of 22nd St, San Pedro
Open to the public every Saturday from 3:30 AM - 7:30 AM