Sunday, November 9, 2008

Idiot Fish

No, I'm not talking about the clown you have in your fish bowl that swims upside down and jumps out of the water just for fun. I'm talking about a fish from Alaskan waters, that FLF (funny looking fish) to the right. Photo courtesy of the Alaska Fisheries Science Center/NOAA.

While I really like the name Idiot Fish, I'm thinking that Caricature Fish or Cartoon Fish might be more appropriate. Doesn't it look like a caricature of a fish? The Chinese name which translates to Red Dragon Fish is pretty cool too. The official common name of this fish (Sebastolobus alascanus) is Shortspine Thornyhead. That's not terrible as the names of fish go; it's certainly much better than Salmon or Perch or Bass. It also goes by Rock Cod, Channel Rockcod, Shortspine Channel Rockfish, and Spinycheek Rockfish.

My introduction to this fish started innocently enough. I was at the Freight Station Farmers Market some time ago when Beth Nowak mentioned that her brother, a fisherman in Alaska, had sent her some Idiot Fish and that she would bring me one. And she did. And I cooked it. And it was really good. And she brought me another one to cook at the market yesterday during my fish cooking demonstration, hence this post today.

We don't see this fish on the east coast because they are prized in Japan and the bulk of the catch goes there, especially given that the Japanese are willing to pay a higher price. In Japan, the fish is called Kichiji (although properly that name belongs to a cousin, Sebastolobus macrochir, Broadbanded Thornyhead). There are about nine very similar species of Sebastolobus, many of which get lumped under the name Idiot Fish.

In Japan, the fish is generally served on the bone and is traditionally braised in soy sauce, mirin, and sake. Having tasted the fish, I can see how that would be very delicious. Idiot Fish is very high in oil content; in fact, it reminds me of Sablefish (Alaskan Black Cod) in that regard. The texture is not as firm and in my experience (two fish), you must handle it delicately and it wants to fall apart/melt. I think the Japanese have it right: filets are probably not the best application for this fish.

Sadly, the fish is becoming endangered, so I won't be creating a market for it at the restaurant. That's a shame really, because given its Japanese colloquial name of Kinki, can you imagine what recipe we might devise for it on our April Fool's menu? ;)

1 comment:

  1. I knew a Japanese Man who was an observer specialist for a Japanese company who bought fish from on a commercial Alaskan fishing company. He oversaw the the processing of fish that were sold to the Japanese. He said that the reason they call it an idiot fish is because its schools with fish that try prey on it, therefore being an idiot for doing that. The idiot fish or Sebastolobus macrochir are becoming extinct due to over fishing but not because of being idiots =) ~Kenton