A Fish By Any Other Name
How consumers respond to the catchy names of the catch of the day
Overfishing, global warming, dwindling natural resources-it's enough to kill your appetite. That's why chefs are turning on to tilapia, sablefish, even wreckfish. They're sustainable-plentiful and harvestable without threatening the ecosystem. And though they make darn good eating, many people don't know what they are. Chefs are learning it takes more than beurre blanc to move wreckfish from menu to plate.
"You have to convince the waiters," says Michael Schwartz, executive chef at Afterglo, a restaurant in Miami's South Beach. "It's important for them to taste it so they understand the product."
Marketing helps too. Give an ugly fish a sexy name and you've got dinner. When the Patagonian toothfish came to the table as "Chilean Sea Bass," it became so popular it was nearly wiped out. Sustainable-minded chefs banned it, using instead species like sablefish, also known as butterfish, and black cod (though neither black nor cod).
Provenance can create prestige. Prince Edward Island is to mussels what Lucky is to jeans. Vancouver's all-seafood-all-the-time restaurant C takes it further; the "Kagan Bay scallops" featured in the restaurant's signature carpaccio "are farmed exclusively for us," says executive chef Robert Clark. "You won't eat them anywhere else."
Tilapia, though, is everywhere. Also called St. Peter's fish-allegedly the fish with which Jesus fed the masses-it's easy to raise in large numbers. "It's a wonderful canvas for flavors," adds Jim Dodge. A pastry chef and native New Englander, Dodge was shocked when his region's once-thriving regional cod fishery tanked. "It shook me," he says.
That's why he co-founded Cooking for Solutions, a May celebration hosted by Monterey Bay Aquarium. Now in its fifth year, this series of public events makes sustainable sizzle with a gala dinner, cooking demos and an Iron Chef-style cookoff with ocean-friendly seafood.
Not only is it a sell-out event, it seems to be working. Chefs are serving butterfish blackened, miso-marinated and, of course, with beurre blanc. Now all we need is a better name for wreckfish.