Life's too short to eat bad food - Me

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic - Arthur C. Clarke

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Teach A Man To Fish

And he might catch something you don't want to eat.

I love fish and seafood. I love my adopted home of Buffalo. Apparently, not all of Buffalo shares my love of fish and seafood - if judged by the usual assortment available. The same few species appear over and over, usually once frozen (I don't have a problem with frozen if done well) and farm-raised (ditto). Boneless fillets are the norm. Even those outlets who go out of the way to bring in line caught wild fish bring in the same species, or so it seems. Then there is the issue of "The Smell".

It's gotten much better, but it's still there - "The Smell" that generations have been
told is what fish smells like. Don't get it? Join me for breakfast at the Reading Terminal Market (yes the one from the chase scene in National Treasure) in Philadelphia an grab a seat in the Center Court as close to John Yi's Fish market as you like. What you will smell is your coffee, eggs, bacon or scrapple, and not that beautiful array of fish (hey, if a then 5 and 4 year old don't smell anything you know that the fish is fresh).

Of course, that is is part of our problem here - we are geo
graphically challenged. Despite the fact that my wife once had a secretary convinced that Lockport is the Tuna Capitol of North America, we aren't a seaport near an ocean. So with the exception of a few species that survived the pollution in Lakes Erie and Ontario, we depend on seafood that is shipped here. That means to get the freshest of fish it has to be flown or trucked in at great expense. Some places do that on occasion, but more would - if the demand were there. That brings up the obvious second problem, supply follows demand.

Look, we Buffal
onians can be a stubborn and parochial lot. I remember an article in the First Sunday magazine of the Buffalo News (and I miss that monthly "fix"). It was an article about Mike Andrzejewski shortly after he and Tai opened Tsunami, talking about flying in overnight the freshest of fish from Hawaii. Things like Ahi, Mahi-Mahi and Hawaiian Butterfish. Many (like me) were salivating at the idea of something called Hawaiian Butterfish cooked by Mike.

However, for each one of us, there are many, many more in the area who still think that the best
prepared fish is a hunk of frozen haddock doused in a batter and deep fried in oil that gets changed about as frequently as I change the batteries in my smoke detectors (twice yearly for me). Their opinion is as valid as anyone's, but that they are a majority does aid in our fish impediment.

So, what is the purpose of my rant? Despite any limitations in the Buffalo market, when anyone offers something new or interesting in the domain of fish and seafood I want to try it. When Dash's, a local market, advertised Tender and Delicious Escolar this past week, I was intrigued.

I try to keep up with such nomenclature, but I was lost on this one - my first guess was that it was the bad guy from "A Clear and Present Danger". After that it was an Internet search. Escolar is a fish known under many aliases, including Walu - a name known to me. More important to this post it is also known as the Ex-Lax fish.

It seems that that in addition to a delightful taste the Escolar flesh contains naturally occurring compounds similar to Olestra, the fat substitute that created great fun for me after only a couple of chips. You don't need the details, but it affects about 40% of those who consume it especially in portions over 5 or 6 ounces.

I found many delightful newspaper articles and blog articles about this particular delicacy from coast to coast, from North to South. My favorite is a 1999 article in The New York Times by Marian Burros. This informative article quotes noted food science expert Harold McGee: ''The wax esters therefore pass intact, their lubricating properties undiminished, from the small intestine into the colon, where a sufficient quantity will defeat our normal control over the ultimate disposition of food residues.''

Yum. Just as a side note, I stopped at the nearest Dash's and they had no Escolar on display - though "That Smell" was in evidence from the produce area. But driving by Hayes Seafood in Kenmore, it was advertised as a special.

So the minor question is do you think those who purchased and offered Escolar as a special had any idea of this lovely lower intestinal side effect? Not.

The more important question is what risk are you willing take for good seafood. Poisoning from Fugu is rare, but if you are poisoned there is about a 60% that you'd die. Would you risk it even if prepared by Masa Takayama? Only 40% of people suffer abdominal cramping and loose stools
from Escolar, is it worth that to enjoy a tasty morsel prepared by someone who really knows their way with seafood - say a Mike Andrzejewski?

That's the reason for the poll (which I posted early because you can't save a draft, apparently). I was just curious as to how much risk you would take for something tasty. Look, there is risk in any food (4-13 ETA - Heck, they are recalling breakfast cereal today!). But, to me there is something inherently different in the risk from a frozen hockey puck of ground beef, and that associated with the succulent tastes of exotic fruits de mer.

So, for me yeah, I'd eat Fugu prepared by Masa - heck, beyond the fact that it is the rule of the house, I'd eat anything prepared prepared by Masa.

As for Escolar prepared by Mike, yeah. I almost did. Remember that Hawaiian Butterfish I was drooling over earlier? Yep, Escolar/Walu/Ex-Lax fish. ;-)

The author of this post (um, that'd be me) would like to recognize the assistance of Andrew Galarneau, Buffalo News Staff Writer for confirming that despite rapidly failing memory skills I had accurately recalled that First Sunday article, which he authored. Andrew also runs a Food Blog called Buffalo Buffet, which is well worth stopping by, and is an occasional commenter here.

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Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
- Arthur C. Clarke

Life's too short to eat bad food -