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Oct 24, 2011 06:16 AM

Globe Article on Seafood Substitutions.

As the resident seafood distributor, my take on the article: The Globes intentions are good. They are about 75% factually correct. The Pacific Cod substitution drives me crazy. The stuff is crap and tasteless.

They go after Ming Tsai and if I were him I'd be filing a libel suit. Anyone who is eating $20 /lb black cod knows it's not $6 a lb domestic cod and would be offended to be considered in the same realm. Alaskan Butterfish is a widely accepted industry name for Black Cod/Sablefish.

Alma Nove in Hingham gets the star of the day for substituting haddock for cod. Wish all restaurants did that.

Finally, is anyone really surprised the "seafood special" at your local chinese/sushi restaurant is not what you thought it was? I'd hate to know what the chicken really is.

I'd also be curious to know how many of the Globe's advertisers were sampled.

Part 1

Part 2

Alma Nove
Hingham, Hingham, MA 02043

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  1. Thanks for your informed input, I really appreciate it. I found the articles interesting and illuminating.

    1. This has actually been posted a couple of times on this board, but Chowhound mods keep moving the posts to the Food and Media board. It belongs on the Boston board, imho - this is not about Food and Media - it's about Boston food....but I suspect by the time I finish typing this comment, the thread will have vanished.

      I prefer truth in advertising - if it's not really "butterfish" but some sort of pseudonym, tell me what the fish is, educate me as to the virtues of sablefish, and let me decide.

      Otherwise, I think it causes the consumer to lose trust.

      40 Replies
      1. re: Bob Dobalina

        I was surprised no one had posted it, which is why I posted it.

        This does deserve to be in the Boston section.

        1. re: typhoonfish

          I was thinking the same thing - that they'll move it to the Media board - but if we keep the conversation on local vendors, markets, and restaurants, maybe they'll let this thread stay here.

          What do you guys know about Whole Foods - do they have their own distributor? I would (perhaps naively) expect them to be more reliable than a cheap Chinese restaurant where fish labeling is concerned, but I was in the Brighton WF yesterday and saw "Dover sole" for $6 a lb. That's got to be bogus!

          1. re: BobB

            It is bogus - they are selling Pacific sole -
            which I believe is inferior in taste to the European variety. But as the wiki indicates, it is often marketed as Dover Sole.

            What this article tells me more than anything is that everyone is the supply chain is duplicitous, as the favored named fish begin to disappear. Everyone is worried about losing market share. Not enough cod? All it takes is one unscrupulous supplier to call something cod, when it's not, thus boosting the price, etc.

            I guess what burns me is that, for the money I am spending at places like O Ya or Blue Ginger, I expect at least them to be sourcing and selling honestly.

            O Ya
            9 East Street, Boston, MA 02111

            Blue Ginger
            583 Washington St., Wellesley, MA 02482

            1. re: Bob Dobalina

              This does nothing but help distributors like us who sell high end expensive seafood. Unfortunately it gives the industry a bad name. I could write a book on the menu nonsense I see and the complete misinformation wait-staff will tell customers.

              We fight battles constantly over the species substitution. I'm on the front lines of the frozen pacific cod battle.

              I'm also an importer of Holland Dover Sole, the whole West coast dover sole is nothing but a cheap smoke and mirrors trick by big retailers. They should know better. Unfortunately it's legal according to FDA to call it west coast "dover sole". So they continue to do it.

              1. re: typhoonfish

                "distributors like us who sell high end expensive seafood."

                All we want is fresh, and local. Oh, and to be able to trust the sign in the fish case or the menu description. Since this article teaches us that we can NOT trust either of these, I won't be buying as much "fish". With an industry wide blow such as this exposée, I don't see how you can expect much of an increase in demand...

                re: Dover sole - shouldn't that be reserved for... sole from Dover?
                ala Block Island swordfish (which hasn't really existed in 15 or so years)

                1. re: okra

                  That's why I only buy fish from Cyndy the Fish Lady, on Thursdays at the Brookline farmers market in season and on Tuesdays at the When Pigs Fly bakery in Coolidge Corner the rest of the year. Always impeccably fresh, never frozen, locally caught. She only offers nine types of fish plus scallops and shrimp, and each is easily identifiable by sight as exactly what it's supposed to be.

                  1. re: BobB

                    Locally caught shrimp? I didn't realize we had local shrimp outside of the ones from Maine during the winter.

                    1. re: emannths

                      Good point - I don't buy shrimp so I didn't pay close attention to that, but looking at her weekly e-mail she lists it as Wild Carolina Shrimp. She also sells fresh Maine crabmeat when she can get it. Everything else is local.

                    2. re: BobB

                      Another alternative is joining the Cape Ann Fresh Catch CSF. Members buy direct from the fishermen and there is a whole fish option so you can really see what you are buying. And when it's hake, it's hake, they don't tell you it's anything else (although once you have seen it you wouldn't be misled anyway). Although I must say, having been a CSF member for a bunch of seasons, even with fillets, I can tell the difference between hake, cod and pollack so I am a bit suspicious of chefs saying they can't tell. Typhoonfish, what say you on that part of the article? I suppose I might get confused between different kinds of flounder, but the picture in the Globe of tilapia and snapper showed a clear difference.

                      1. re: BobB

                        I thought Cyndy's fish was from Globe Fish?

                        1. re: Gabatta

                          Could be, I've never asked. All I know is that it is always what it's supposed to be (not that I could necessarily tell tilapia from grouper, but her white-fleshed fish are all standard local varieties like haddock, cod, swordfish and bluefish, which I can definitely recognize).

                          The Globe article does not mention Globe Fish (no relation, I presume) as one of the offenders. They appear to be mostly importers of Asian and other Pacific fish.

                          1. re: BobB

                            Regarding Globe Fish:

                            We've been buying from this distributer all season at our local (Melrose) farmers' market and have been Very satisfied with the quality of everything we bought. For instance, haddock & cod - all white fish from Gloucester, wild salmon from Alaska, hand picked crab meat from Maine, scallops, local bluefish in season and other white fish from Chatham.

                    3. re: typhoonfish

                      Color me confused. I interpret the opening note of this thread as saying you think it's OK for Blue Ginger to call sablefish butterfish. But the Globe article indicates the FDA does not allow such a specific name change.

                      On the other hand, the FDA allows one to call Pacific Sole Dover Sole. And yet you object to that name change.

                      Uh...why is one name change OK and the other is not? Please don't assume that patrons of restaurants are as well-informed as you are about fish names and so on...we clearly are not.

                      Thanks for starting this thread!

                      Blue Ginger
                      583 Washington St., Wellesley, MA 02482

                      1. re: hondodog

                        I guess I take for granted that someone who is ordering black cod at $50 a plate, knows it's not domestic cod and most will generally know some of the common iterations of the name. You'll never see a chef substituting black cod for domestic cod. My wholesale price for BC is $11.95 a lb whole, where domestic cod is $2 a lb whole.

                        Where as Dover Sole, the retailers are using semantics to trick people into using a lesser quality product.

                        That's where I make the distinction. Ming Tsai technically might not have been using the FDA approved nomenclature, but was not trying to pull a fast one on anyone. The retailers are trying to pull a fast one.

                        I could also go talk for 20 minutes about the Loup De Mer/ Wolffish/ Branzino / Sea Bass naming argument. Ask me how many times I've sent Loup De Mer to someone in california and they said "what the hell is this?"

                        While we're on that , let's argue about.:

                        Nantucket scallops

                        or chatham cod......

                        or BI swordfish.....

                        or pumpkin sword.......

                        or scrod/schrod/schrod haddock ....(got 2 hours)....

                        or Oyster co-ops.....

                        This is what makes the fish business so much fun and so confusing. The wild west days of species substitution and printing money is rapidly coming to a close.

                        1. re: typhoonfish

                          “I guess I take for granted that someone who is ordering black cod at $50 a plate, knows it's not domestic cod and most will generally know some of the common iterations of the name”


                          I appreciate and have enjoyed reading your perspective on this topic, but why do you take for granted that a diner would possess your specialized knowledge? And wasn't that the point of the article in the first place?

                          1. re: StevieC

                            The point of the article is that Sushi restaurants are substituting Escolar for white tuna. Escolar is known to give people GI problems. That is downright dangerous.

                            IN MY OPINION:

                            The Boston Globe needed a high end restaurant to show they were not picking on one segment of the restaurant population. They didn't find any substitution in Boston worth noting. So they grasped at straws and picked on Ming Tsai with the big name for a minor and I mean minor naming issue. One that most people would not even consider to be an issue.

                            Full disclosure: I have no allegiance to Ming Tsai. I've never eaten there. I do sell black cod/sablefish/alaskan butterfish.

                            I wonder if they could do the same expose on Kobe/Wagyu beef in steak restaurants?

                            1. re: typhoonfish

                              "I do sell black cod/sablefish/alaskan butterfish."

                              Do you sell local (Rhode Island) butterfish?

                                1. re: StriperGuy

                                  I think the implied expectation is that "white tuna" is albacore tuna. Is albacore ever actually served as sushi? My expectation is that "white tuna," unless specifically called "albacore," is going to be escolar.

                                  Btw, I suspect it's impossible to eat enough escolar to cause "dangerous" effects. It's simply a laxative whose mechanism is similar to Olestra. Are people going to get all up in arms if they get gas unexpectedly because they didn't know a dish contained beans?

                                  1. re: emannths

                                    It's very possible to suffer from uncontrolllable oily orange rectal discharge from eating escolar at a sushi place . Real life stories abound.

                                    I'd certainly want to have the choice to avoid that. Proper lableing matters.

                                    1. re: C. Hamster

                                      Yes, but 1) such discharge is not "dangerous," and 2) "white tuna" is always escolar. IMHO, if you can accurately identify the fish 100% of the time (as the Globe reports), the fact that the name suggests a false taxonomy is a negligible quibble.

                                      1. re: emannths

                                        1) Anything that can give one diarrhea is a health risk. But beyond a health risk, the social risk stemming from a bout of uncontrollable oily orange rectal discharge is one many people would choose not to take.

                                        2) Putting aside for the minute the fact that escolar is not even tuna, the article stated that escolar is being sold as "albacore," not just white tuna. Any references to escolar being tuna of any color or type is wrong.

                                        1. re: C. Hamster

                                          It's not diarrhea, it's steatorrhea, which does not not have the risk of dehydration that makes diarrhea dangerous.

                                          I agree that the instance of labeling it "albacore" is wrong. But that's clearly the exception, and it doesn't change the fact that for practical purposes, white tuna = escolar unless you're looking at a can.

                                          1. re: emannths

                                            For the less-imformed (lots of customers) , "white tuna" would probably mean tuna, not escolar.

                                            Perhaps escolar -- no matter what it is referred to as-- should come with an asterisk warning akin to eating "undercooked" meat.

                                            That way one can avoid oily orange discharge or risk it, according to their preference.

                                            1. re: C. Hamster

                                              and people ask why i dont like fish.....

                                            2. re: emannths

                                              "unless you're looking at a can"

                                              which is dolphin!

                                              I'm kidding, I'm kidding (dodges the rotten vebetables)

                                              1. re: emannths

                                                i agree with you. There are so many cases of fish, in particular, being given more marketable names in the u.s.( typhoon could entertain us for a long time with these stories, i bet.)

                                                as to danger of escolar, i have first hand experience with the potential bad effects of eating this fish. Three yrs ago, I had it in an entree portion at a very reliable seafood restnt (we had eaten there numerous times)in Carmel CA, after which i was nauseous sick for a good 7-14 days. I was so freaked out that I spent an afternoon on my computer reading about escolar. It is native to Australian waters and is eaten there in abundance. I found one report about a sequestered study group ( a conference) where the majority of the participants became ill after eating escolar for their dinner the night before. But millions of people eat it and don't get sick. The danger is not that the fish is not fresh, btw; it has to do with the escolar not being able to process oil in what they eat- so it is passed through their system, undigested. And it also seems to be an inconsistent phenomenon throughout that fish breed.Most of the available web info/studies come from Australia, and, as of 3 yrs ago, there were not alot of studies that had been done.

                                                After my Carmel incident, i spoke to 2 diff fish market people there; the independent store owner sold it,no problems, but the WF Monterey "stopped carrying it because we got too many complaints."

                                                Two respected Boston chefs have explained to me that it is only dangerous when eaten in > 6ou. portions (this from the chef/owner of Sushi Island, who calls it "White tuna(Escolar)" and from Jason Santos, chef/owner of Blue Inc.). Such a uniquely delicious fish.

                                                  1. re: C. Hamster

                                                    ham, this is feeling a bit like nanu nanu. reason? the first time i ever HEARD of escolar was in 1995 in......DURANGO CO.!! passing through on a camping trip. this is so weird. Did you read the link? i couldn't tell if the doc was doing a total put-on (the whale harness thing)? or just doing a side goof on an otherwise serious post. you?

                                                  2. re: opinionatedchef

                                                    I agree with the folks above that I have always assumed that white tuna in sushi restaurants refers to escolar, as there is no such fish as "white tuna". Despite the risk of steatorrhea, escolar is delicious in small quantities. (Note, Olestra is still FDA approved despite causing steatorrhea since it is not a health risk, just an unpleasant experience) I haven't heard come across any restaurant that has served albacore as "white tuna", as it is labeled albacore. The flesh of these two fish are quite distinct as barleywino pointed out.

                                            3. re: C. Hamster

                                              I had read that about butterfish on the boards earlier, so when I was in San Diego recently I was hesitant to order it. Happy to report it must have been "real" butterfish because no problem!!

                                            4. re: emannths

                                              fwiw the albacore sushi served in the Pacific NW is usually pink, on the fatty side, and nothing like escolar in appearance, texture or taste. (it's in one of the signature preparations at Tojo's in Vancouver, for example) Black cod is also common in that region (even as sushi, although usually grilled, as at Sushi Island in Wakefield).

                                          2. re: typhoonfish

                                            My wife got sick after eating at a Medford organic "blue" Sushi joint. I wonder now if that is what actually happened? We just assumed she got some bad fish.

                                            1. re: typhoonfish

                                              Agree. I'm glad they did the article, but feel like the black cod/sablefish is a cheap shot. I seem to recall buying it at New Deal, and being given both names. It was great from them, BTW.

                                              1. re: typhoonfish


                                                I think the point of the article was to help create an educated consumer, and in the process hold restaurants accountable to them.

                                                You are in the industry. You consider certain facts about fish to be basic knowledge. Well, they are not. And why would they be.

                                                Re: Ming Tsai - you refer to it as a naming issue that "most people would not even consider to be an issue." Which people? Industry people? I do not think that is the relevant population in this discussion.

                                                1. re: typhoonfish

                                                  I agree with you here. Though I have no experience with the term black cod (it's not used in New England in general, as far as I know) I did grow up with (and still enjoy) smoked sable, which has always been the "high end" fish in Jewish delis, more expensive per pound than the various types of lox and smoked salmon. Thus to me, sable is the good stuff and I can't imagine why he'd want to rename it.

                                                  1. re: BobB

                                                    i seethe terms black cod and sable both used in NE. Black cod seems to be the name i see it under in japanese restaurants. Nobu has a particularly delicious version of this dish.

                                                  2. re: typhoonfish

                                                    Prime beef. Go to dinner with a butcher and order prime. See what the butcher says...

                                            2. re: typhoonfish

                                              For it to be Dover Sole, doesn't it have to be caught somewhere near Dover (and not Dover NH)?

                                    2. The original comment has been removed
                                      1. hah! I just ate what I thought was white tuna on Friday night. (I got a chirashi bowl, and the fish weren't listed.) now that I'm reading up on escolar, it makes total sense that THAT's what I was eating. stronger taste, waxy/oily feel. didn't get the GI problems though ... so now I'm wondering if I actually prefer escolar.

                                        1. I do find some of your objections to the article/investigation contradictory. That said, this substitution thing has been going on for a very long time. Back in the late 70's when I was working at a fairly high end restaurant here in Boston, the fish was often "mislabeled."

                                          Generally, I don't eat fish in a restaurant just for this reason. In fact, the only fish I have eaten in a restaurant in the past 10 years would be generic white fish tacos and whole fish. I find these substitutions rather appalling to be honest. Catfish triggers my shellfish allergies, for example. A dangerous condition... since you don't know why you are having the reaction.

                                          I buy fish from New Deal and the Courthouse. I did the Fish CSA for a time, but became overwhelmed by the number of fish cages in my freezer. And so, I cook the fish I eat at home. It is about the most simple protein to cook. This investigation just reinforces my choice.

                                          6 Replies
                                          1. re: smtucker

                                            The Alma Nove haddock was a joke. My personal preference is haddock. Nobody should be substituting anything. Get off your lazy butts and inform your servers what the days changes are. Contrary to what the Globe said haddock is generally more expensive that cod.

                                            Alma Nove
                                            Hingham, Hingham, MA 02043

                                            1. re: typhoonfish

                                              I have always felt that haddock was far superior to cod in flavor, texture, sweetness. Tourists however think what they want is cod, thus the schrod, scrod thing. When I went to the video, it showed a lot of seafood shacks. When the chef, an 18 year old kid opens a vat of skinned cod and haddock, I can see that they wouldn't know the difference enough to tell the person at the window what he was frying. And it is quite likely that the most affordable vat of fish may have a mix of both in it, and the owner is simply not paying attention.

                                              If I was at a nicer restaurant and was told that the fish of the day was haddock, I'd order in a heartbeat. If it was cod, I'd peruse the menu for other selections.

                                              1. re: Bellachefa

                                                Same here - I much prefer haddock. Cyndy currently sells both at the same price and I buy haddock almost all the time unless I'm doing a recipe that specifically calls for cod.

                                                1. re: BobB

                                                  Ditto this. Grew up eating fresh caught haddock from the docks in Boston (my uncle had a welding place right near what was, at the time, Anthony's - ahhh - fresh caught haddock every Friday...) My mom was adamant - would NEVER eat cod - was def the lesser fish in her book, and I agree.

                                                  For some reason I can't see the video & I only can read one page of the article. Going to try another browser... was told a long time ago by the fish monger we used to buy from (need to take a trip over there to stock up - Cram Seafood near Newmarket Sq) that the large scallops sold are usually fish cheeks. He always told us what was good, what to avoid.

                                                  1. re: BobB

                                                    I much prefer haddock if it's broiled as a fillet too, use cod more for stews etc. I think we are partly to blame for the mislabelling because so many of us ask for fillets at the market. I applaud WF and a few other stores for displaying whole fish because it's up to us to learn to tell them apart. In France and Italy most of the fish is sold whole because the public is wary of substitutions, and the fishmonger will always skin and fillet the fish for you.

                                              2. re: smtucker

                                                Why not eat the whole fish sold in plenty of Asian restaurants? if you are being swindled, you can see the evidence right there.