August 22, 2007

Escolar, the snake mackerel with gempylotoxins.

Yum! Last night, I ate a type of fish I'd never heard of before, and if I'd had internet access in the restaurant and looked it up, I would never have ordered it:
What gives these fish their desirable taste is actually a component similar to those used to produce Olestra, the fake fat found in some snack foods: a fatty substance called wax esters, in this case, gempylotoxins. Humans cannot digest these wax esters because they lack the enzymes necessary to break the large molecules into smaller, absorbable components.

Harold McGee, the author of ''On Food and Cooking'' (Scribner, 1984), described the process elegantly in a paper he delivered at the 1997 Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery: ''The wax esters therefore pass intact, their lubricating properties undiminished, from the small intestine into the colon, where a sufficient quantity will defeat our normal control over the ultimate disposition of food residues.''
So it's the Olestra of fish? Well, I was perfectly fine and the fish was delicious.

14 comments:

Tripp said...

Did you have it cooked, or as sushi? While it is excellent cooked, it is by far my favorite fish for sushi (just be careful how much you eat..two pieces is usually perfect). Unfortunately, it is difficult to find, especially in NYC (I've yet to find it here, but not for lack of looking).

Ann Althouse said...

It was cooked. At the Kitchen Club at 30 Prince Street. A special... not on the regular menu.

bill said...

I almost claimed about the 1984 Harold McGee reference. He released a new version of On Food and Cooking in 2004 and radically changed it:

I rewrote the text almost completely, expanded it by two thirds, and commissioned over 100 new illustrations. Among the major themes I address throughout are:

*Traditional and modern methods of food production and their influences on food quality
*The great diversity of methods by which people in different places and times have prepared the same ingredients
*Tips for selecting the best ingredients and preparing them successfully
*The particular substances that give foods their flavors, and that give us pleasure
*Our evolving knowledge of the health benefits and risks of foods


If you enjoy science and history, it's a book your kitchen must have. He's pretty much the epicenter of the scientific revolution in cooking.

But I RTFA and saw it was from 1999. That's cool. McGee also writes a monthly column for the NY Times.

bill said...

claimed = complained

cold pizza said...

You were fortunate to not have any side effects. Talk show guy Bob Lonsberry (out of Rochester) wasn't so lucky. You can read his account with escolar at HERE . -cp

froggyprager said...

cold pizza - the NYT article did no bother me much but the story you sent made me feel sick. Too much information. Uggggh! : (
I am pretty sure I did eat it once and I don't recall having a problem. I think it is somewhat slimey for a resturant to serve it and tell everyone how good it is if they do not know what they may be getting into.

Beth said...

I love escolar sushi; I have sushi about once a week and always order that if it's available. It usually comes with a little dot of srirachi, some lemon zest and some sort of thinned soy sauce, and it's really tasty. I too was a bit alarmed after looking it up online; I'd had four pieces the night before, but to no ill effect.

amba said...

Is it the same as or related to orange roughy? That used to be called "slimehead." But when they fillet it, they remove the fatty layer all over under the skin. Before they knew to do it -- on the first Japanese ship where they caught them and ate them, everybody got horrible diarrhea. But now they know.

If they're like orange roughy, these are probably deep-sea fish that are dredged up off the bottom in an extremely slash-and-burn kind of way. The wax esters serve some protective purpose living in the cold, dark, high-pressure depths. These fish can become extinct in a generation because they breed so slowly. I'm not trying to make you feel guilty for eating it (Al Gore recently ate Chilean "sea bass," which is the same story). I just had to vet a story on that very subject and it was quite upsetting.

Tripp said...

There is a wonderful Israeli place on 5th Ave just south of Atlantic (on Prospect to be exact) called Miriam (I believe they recently opened another one on clinton, also south of Atlantic) that has a delicious escolar dish on the menu (altough I don't know if I'd want to eat it every day)...they also have 1/2 price bottles of wines on Mondays and Tuesdays (I believe)...not to mention an amazing fontina/wild mushroom omelet for weekend brunch...

It is actually nothing like orange roughy...while it is called snake mackeral, it's not actually related to any other fish we regularly hear about. It's pretty much an open water surface predator, similar to Tuna and swordfish, with similar responses to fishing...

Ann Althouse said...

Hey, that's weird! I just ate at Miriam on Court Street.

Ann Althouse said...

Hey, that's weird! I just ate at Miriam on Court Street.

Tripp said...

and....? Good, bad, just so-so? I haven't been to that one, and I've been wondering if it's worth trying out.

T-Dog said...

ann...(my wisconsin sister!)

my favorite escolar is at a restaurant called THE LIMANI FISH GRILL in richmond, va. several types of fish, grilled over fruitwood. very simple, and delicious. and the escolar is to die for.

tony clements

Ann Althouse said...

To die for or to get diarrhea for.