It was a big day for Aunt Ruth: Her mom celebrated her 80th birthday in a tony restaurant in Half Moon Bay with husband, kids and grandkids. Mom eyed the specials and asked, “What is escolar?” Now, yer Auntie had a dim memory that something was environmentally askance with the fish, but memory is an underwater creature some days, and the particulars weren’t surfacing.
The waiter, struggling awkwardly for the words, described the fish as “lumpy” not flaky; “fishy,” not mild. But, the waiter asserted, “It is delicious.” “Mom,” Ruthie said quietly over the table, as the waiter left to get wine. “I read something … questionable about escolar.” “Oh, I might just order it anyway!” said Mom, gaily.
Now, Ruthie’s mom is a joie de vivre kinda gal, and Yer Auntie can’t tell her a damn thing, and should Auntie Ruth make it to her 80th birthday and want to order fried filet of racing tire, stand back, shut up and let it be. Still, Aunt Ruth did some research after the fact, and hoo, boy: She shoulda said something. Any fish described as “lumpy” connotes sucky things on octopus arms—sheer warning signs—but escolar is worse. According to Mother Jones: “A bycatch of tuna, escolar is often referred to as ‘white tuna.’ … The buttery fish is a kind of snake mackerel, a deep-sea bottom-feeder full of a wax ester that accounts for its dreamy velvety texture. Unfortunately, that oil is not digestible by humans and causes severe gastrointestinal distress in some people. [Thus] the nickname ‘Ex-Lax fish.’”
Oh, mama. Oh, mama. Evidently, there are gourmet cooks who maintain the fish is fine in small amounts, and the Food and Drug Administration “merely ‘requests’ seafood manufacturers and processors inform potential buyers and sellers of the ‘purgative effect.’”
It seems to Ruthie there are two issues here. One, as overfishing forces the seafood industry to present bycatch as “new” kinds of fish (Chilean sea bass is another example), regulation—or at least accurate information—has to be in place, especially when menu is in hand and the waiter is taking your order. Two, that devil-be-damned American spirit that Mom and, gee, even Ruthie occasionally succumbs to (see racing tire reference), the “don’t tell me what’s good for me” nose-turned-up attitude that’s haunted much good food (how many tofu jokes do you know?), often comes at a price. Anyway, Mom didn’t order the escolar. Dad did.