What's In A Fish's Name? | CookingDistrict.com

What's In A Fish's Name?

Will the first person that honestly knows what “jumbo” shrimp is call me? I’ll give you my cell phone number.
Oh, and if you can actually tell the difference between a boneless, skinless fillet of Redfish and Corvina (without seeing the whole fish first), I would be very interested in having a conversation over coffee.
As chefs, we have the responsibility to market and sell food in a manner that is profitable for the establishment, but true to what the product is. Would anyone buy a fish whose name is “toothfish?” In Antarctic waters, “Patagonian Toothfish” is caught and sold in American markets as Chilean Sea Bass for up to $25 per pound. A customer may just opt for a dish that contains “True American Red Snapper” (there is but one True American Red, though many look similar) but it is the chef who has the “social responsibility” to ensure that the snapper is “True American Red.”

In an effort to make certain menu items sound more appealing, chefs employ descriptors that are often misleading. While shrimp does turn “pink” when cooked, it is incorrect to call any shrimp “Pink Shrimp” unless it is truly Pandalopsis jordani. While the words “day boat” make a customer think of a salty fisherman starting his morning by shoving off the docks at 3:00 a.m. to catch the Swordfish that they will eat that night is fanciful, care must be exercised to ensure that this is in fact the case.

To truly dine, we must eat with all of our senses. While “thought” is not a sense, ordering Black Grouper will instantly transport me back to the Florida seafood restaurant where I would break down Black Groupers as large as 50 pounds. My senses remember the smell, the taste, the touch of that Black Grouper. If I order Black Grouper, I expect to be transported back to those sensory memories.

In the summer of 2007, the state of Florida doubled its fine for falsely marketing fish from $250 per instance to $500. These violations fall under “truth-in-menu” laws, and most cases are overlooked unless an illness occurs and it is discovered that what was being marketed actually wasn’t what was being sold. For example, a seafood restaurant in Tampa, FL may just get away selling Asian Catfish as “grouper” until someone gets sick. Enter health inspectors who determine the fish caused the illness, which was not grouper at all as the menu stated.

Even though we as chefs are bound by law to comply with truth-in-menu laws, we are bound by integrity to market truthfully on our menus. Pride trumps legality here, and the added cost to sell true “Black Grouper” or “Copper River Chinook Salmon” should be passed on to the customer. If you sell Jumbo Lump, Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab cakes that contain crabmeat from Chesapeake Bay Blue Crabs, then make sure the menu says so. If the shrimp are jumbo, the call me because I still don’t know what that means.


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