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Eric Ziebold

Somewhat Different Than The Kobe Beef Saga....

11 posts in this topic

One of the things that worries me in this situation is differentiating between a deliberate deception {running out of one fish and substituting another, using a sirloin for a filet ordered well done etc} and the unfortunately common mislabeling of fish from purveyors. As restaurant has to depend on the purveyors it deals with to ID the fish as to origin and species correctly.

Of course, there are certain fish that consumers shy away from under their real names. Just see how well a wreck fish sells as opposed to stone bass.

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http://www.nytimes.c...nted=1&_r=1

And the follow up to the previous story.

But without an enormous amount of funding for US Customs, is there a solution?

It isn't just imported fish, however, so the role of customs isn't clear to me. One of the most substituted species is the red snapper, pulled from Florida and other US waters. There are many lookalike snapper species, many of them good eating of course, but red is king. Best way around that one, if you insist on the real thing, is to buy them before being cleaned, and know what a real one looks like (make sure the iris is red and the dorsal fin is pointed). Alaskan snow crab/king crab is another common one.

DNA testing is becoming cheaper and more available all the time. Maybe when it gets down to being a little kit with instantaneous results the problem will go away.

But as Dean points out, oftentimes it is a consumer ignorance issue in the first place. There are many species down there that are tasty but not well-known. Too bad Pantagonian Toothfish got a new name -- maybe they wouldn't be endangered if it hadn't.

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I wirked at a restaurant where we were offered free fish for 6 months if we would list it on the menu as "Chilean Seabass". That was 1986 or so.

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It isn't just imported fish, however, so the role of customs isn't clear to me.

Customs has a limited time to examine imports for detention, and an almost unbelievable workload. My guess is that we'll see that trend continue, especially as it's simply more difficult to combat fraud issues the farther and farther away you get. And the seafood is coming from very far away these days. See map on page 6:

http://www.gao.gov/assets/650/649010.pdf

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But without an enormous amount of funding for US Customs, is there a solution?

I would think that part of the solution requires a bit of common sense for both restaurateurs/retailers and consumers.

For we sellers if our trusted vendor of something like whole red snapper is quoting us $12.95 a pound and another vendor offers us $9.95 for fillets, what do you think is happening? Wholesale markets are pretty consistent across vendors and they know what each other are charging. Sure there are people who can make special purchases here and there, but by and large, a wholesale piece of fish should be priced in a pretty tight range across the board. If a price being quoted to you is crazy cheap, you can pretty easily figure out the yield for the species and figure out if the fillets can even be produced for the price. Here's your sign.

For the consumer, if the restaurant down the street sells Fresh American Red Snapper for $18.95 for a 10-ounce chunk with two vegetables, salad and tea, versus a restaurant that you trust, selling it for 27 bucks for just the entree, this should be a clue that something is up.

I feel pretty sure that the restaurateurs and chefs who post on this site are, for the most part, the up front ones (just judging by the names you can see below their posts), and I am pretty sure many get a little peeved when the unscrupulous guys down the street offer frozen fish as fresh, and wet scallops as dry, that make their prices seem high, when they are priced properly for what they are selling.

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is quoting us $12.95 a pound and another vendor offers us $9.95 for fillets,

Or it qualifies to be in the AARP :P

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For the consumer, if the restaurant down the street sells Fresh American Red Snapper for $18.95 for a 10-ounce chunk with two vegetables, salad and tea, versus a restaurant that you trust, selling it for 27 bucks for just the entree, this should be a clue that something is up.

Point well taken, but what if the bad guy double-crosses us and charges $27, and just puts tilapia on the plate? If lots of folks used your guideline, he would have even more incentive to do it.

The fundamental problem is that in lots of cases (95%??) the diner can't tell what species he's eating -- there are many species that could be on his plate and all taste pretty much the same to him. Most people order what they've heard of, assuming that that is "safe" or good. So in the end the best solution is for consumers to broaden their horizons. Try things that they may not have heard of, are suspiciously "cheap," but are in fact fine. Have Dean saute up a nice piece of that wreckfish....er, stone bass. Good eating.

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How about some long toothed Chesapeake bass {aka Snakehead?!?}

A high price of a dish is no guarantee of the quality of the ingredients but quality ingredients cost more.

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When I'm eating sushi, sometimes wonder if the Madai or Tai, (Japanese Sea Bream), is really Red Snapper or tilapia.

It's easy to think if the nigiri piece has an overabundance of toppings.

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