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Feb 11, 2009 02:11 PM

Warning: Watch out for "Butterfish" in the Hawaiian Islands...

This has been discussed on Chowhound many times but I don't recall seeing it mentioned specifically about Hawaii...

I bought some fish the other day that was labeled "Butterfish" in the counter display at a highly praised fish market in the Honokowai area of West Maui. It didn't look like the "Butterfish" I buy at home in Northern California. I asked the counter person about it and he said it's the same thing.... We had a bit more conversation but never did he say that what he was selling was actually Escolar!

In case you're not familiar with Escolar, it is delicious but belongs to a family of fish that are very rich and actually contain a type of fat that is not digestible - in fact, it causes gastric difficulties much like Olestra... Basically, it gives you diarrhea and can really mess up your khakis - and this can go on for a couple of days! Not what anyone wants while on vacation (or any other time for that matter).

I'm very familiar with the gastric complications one can have from eating Escolar and if I had known that was what he was selling me, I never would have bought it.

BEWARE - look out for "Butterfish", "Oil Fish", "White Tuna" or "Walu" which all seem to be names that are used for this fish. It's really a shame because it is delicious...

Here are a couple of links to the subject:

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  1. Ah yes, the escolar GI distress. I have encountered it before. In some circles it's called escolar, in others butterfish (not the butterfish that I knew in the Gulf regions of the Deep South) and in others, black cod. Some seem immune to the effects of its oil, while others suffer mightily, and in a very embarassing way.

    We did butterfish at a local (Mainland) Roy's, and it did not adversely affect my wife, or me - luckily. Both have been there, done that.

    Your warning is a good one, as many do suffer from the oils. Yes, it IS delicous, but "complications" CAN ensue, and they are not pretty. If I have much of this fish, I always plan on tele-commuting the next day.



    2 Replies
    1. re: Bill Hunt

      Black cod/sable fish is sometimes called butterfish, but is not escolar. Here in California, I've seen the former called Alaskan butterfish.

      1. re: Caitlin McGrath

        Most of the escolar that I have had has been from the tuna family, and not the cod family. I have also seen/heard it referred to as "oil tuna," but also "oil cod."

        Growing up in the Deep South, we had a butterfish, but it was closer to a pompano, than to either a tuna, or a cod. For us, it was bait-fish, when going after billfish, or much larger prey. In my youth, I do not recall anyone eating that butterfish. However, back then, no one ever ate amberjack, or many other fish that are now appearing on menus.

        In other threads on fish, mention was made of both the Chilean seabass, and the Orange Roughy. The first was known as the Patagonian toothfish, and the latter was the slimehead, prior to marketing.

        It is often curious what names are applied to different fish.


    2. Thanks for the tip.
      When I shop for butterfish I've never seen it sold as "butterfish" but black cod or sablefish.

      3 Replies
      1. re: monku

        "Butterfish' is a new marketing gimmick. I don't know who invented it, but it's probably the same people who tried to market grouper as poor man's lobster.

        1. re: brendastarlet

          I thought that monkfish was "poor man's lobster".... Adam

          1. re: adamshoe

            Monkfish is no longer cheap enough to be a 'poor man's' anything.

      2. As others have suggested, the use of the term butterfish is not based on any one particular fish. Butterfish as is used in restaurants like Roy's is often a type of cod. Elsewhere, you're on your own. Search for butterfish in Google's image search and you'll see many types of fish.

        1. On a recent episode of Top Chef, the chefs needed to replicate specific seafooddishes from La Bernardin. One of the chefs had escolar, which she needed to poach in oil. I have never heard of poaching in oil, but she apparently knew of the technique (even though she admitted she had never done it before). Is this poaching in oil a way of mitigating the "escolar quick step"?

          3 Replies
          1. re: PattiCakes

            I have heard of oil-poaching fish (similar to butter poaching, a common treatment for lobster), not as a particular technique for cooking escolar. I think the key with the Le Bernadin dish is that it is a small serving (part of a tasting menu), so it's not enough escolar to have the negative effect.

            1. re: Caitlin McGrath

              The French Laundry cookbook has a recipe for salmon briefly poached in oil at very low temp. It makes some darned good salmon, (actually, it's the marinade but...) although is closer to sashimi than truly cooked fish.

            2. re: PattiCakes

              Yes, I recall that episode. Wife and I laughed. I would have done it on a broiler pan, so some of the oil would have passed on. Now, escolar, deep-fried in lard, Southern-style, might be fun to serve to guests, so long as they are not "house-guest... "

              Love the taste, but have experienced escolar in the past.


            3. "Butterfish", Walu, Escolar.

              Bottom line, anal leakage.