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Expat Life

A fish by any other name

Back in the early 1980s, I was living in New York City. At the time, fish on the menu was ho-hum, usually a tasteless, overcooked filet. Suddenly, Chilean Sea Bass appeared and was all the rage, commandng a pretty high price. Why had no one ever bothered with it before?

Maybe because the original name was Patagonian toothfish, a black, long fish with firm but oily flesh (some call the fish “slimy”).

Patagonian toothfish

Treehugger.com notes that “Sometimes a name change can be a good thing (just ask Walter Willison, Jennifer Anastassakis, or Caryn Johnson, who you know as Bruce Willis, Jennifer Aniston, and Whoopi Goldberg.”

Popularity is a good thing, except when it results in the near wipeout of the species.

Which is what happened to the Patagonian toothfish — one of two toothfish, the other being the Antarctic toothfish. Giving an ugly fish an appealing name can change the way people feel about eating it.

Marketing experts know that having a better brand is better than having a superior product: research shows that the name you choose can make or break a sale. In the 1970s, consumers, in response to studies attesting to the health benefits associated with eating fish, (healthy fats, superior quality protein), became hooked. But with popularity comes overfishing —populations of the most in demand fish, tuna and snapper, declined precipitously. The fishing industry enterprisingly renamed a number of common (and uncommonly eaten) varieties to suit public taste.

As reported in Azula.com, “The difference between being loved and being loathed might all be in the name when it comes to fish.”

Here are some other examples:

Goosefish: Monkfish, which today commands top dollar in restaurants and markets, was formerly called goosefish. Treehugger writes that goosefish were commonly tossed back because of it is “toad-colored” and looks like “30 percent mouth and 50 percent stomach.” Renamed monkfish, sales increased by 500 percent when fishmongers filleted the tail meat and changed the name to something more appetizing. Overfishing predictably resulted, but the U.S. Fishery Management Council worked to rebuild the industry.

Goosefish renamed “Monkfish”

Slimehead: The Washington Post reports, “Today’s seafood is often yesterday’s trash fish and monsters.” They quote Canadian biologist Jennifer Jacquet who said, “… As we fish out the world’s oceans, we’re coming across these species and wondering ‘Can we give them a makeover?’” Renamed “orange roughy,” the slimehead is a small, firm-fleshed fish, aptly named for its mucus canals. Exotic-sounding orange roughy is much more appealing, dontcha know. Unfortunately, slimefish don’t begin to reproduce until they reach about 20 years, and the bigger fish are more desirable. Many countries have restricted catch to help stabilize the species.

Slimehead, renamed “orange roughy”

Snot fish: Also called the snotty trevally, now re-named the yellow spotted trevally, the “giant” species attracts big game hunters. Found in the Indo-Pacific waters from South Africa to Japan and Australia, the snotty fish produces mucus to gather food particles and transport them down the esophagus.

Snot fish renamed “trevally”. This is a “Giant” species

Hogfish: A case of bait and switch? As reported in Scientific American, three-quarters of the fish sold in the U.S. as red snapper may not be red snapper. Instead, they’re more likely to be another snapper species, most commonly hogfish. Since red snapper commands a super-high price at the market, substituting the less appealingly named “hogfish” is a challenge for consumers to uncover.

Hogfish — bait and switch for red snapper?

Pescado in Ecuador

While we’re talking fish, here are some of my favorite flavors of Ecuador.

Pescado: the general name for any fish on the menu

Anchoa: anchovy

Atún: tuna fish (not to be confused with the fruit known “tuna” in Spanish or “cactus fruit” in English.)

Bacalao: cod, in the culinary context, dried and salted

Corvina: a mild-tasting firm-fleshed fish that cooks up white (it’s pinkish when raw) corvina belong to the Scaienidae family of fish (more than 270 species) it’s very popular in Cuenca and throughout Latin America and it’s very popular for ceviche.

Camarón: shrimp

Cangrejo: crab

Langosta: lobster

Pulpo: octopus

You can order fish:

Fritto – fried
Al horno – baked
A la parilla – grilled
Al vapor – steamed
Al ajillo – in garlic sauce
Rebozado – battered and deep-fried, like tempura

My favorite fish dishes:

Ceviche: made with fresh fish or shellfish, or mixto (both), marinated in citrus juices (lemon and lime) and fresh tomatoes and cilantro.

Pescado encocado: fish in coconut sauce.

Arroz con Camarones: rice with shrimp, typically with sautéed onions, peppers, garlic, tomatoes, parsley and achiote, a spice made from the seeds of the tree, with a mild peppery flavor that gives dishes a yellow color.

Encebollado de Pescado: fish soup made with fresh tuna (atún), yuca, tomato, onions, cilantro, cumin, hot pepper and topped with lime-marinated red onions. Laylita.com is my go-to website for delicious and easy-to-prepare recipes.

What are your favorite fish dishes? Feel free to post in the comments below, and to mention any restaurants where you’ve enjoyed them in Cuenca and Ecuador.

Susan Burke March, a Cuenca expat, is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian, a Certified Diabetes Educator who specializes in smart solutions for weight loss and diabetes-related weight management. She is the author of Making Weight Control Second Nature: Living Thin Naturally—a fun and informative book intended to liberate serial dieters and make healthy living and weight control both possible and instinctual over the long term. Do you have a food, nutrition or health question? Write to her – SusanTheDietitian@gmail.com