Thursday, August 02, 2007

The pleasure and pain of escolar

This summer, I first experienced the fish called escolar and have since tried it in three different restaurants. I have learned its pleasure. I have learned its pain.

Escolar is a deep water fish with a high oil content in its muscle tissue. It has a strong flavor that reminds me of swordfish or tuna, but milder and butterier. It is utterly delicious.

I first tried a small serving of escolar carpaccio in Austin at Uchi. The fish was sliced thinly. In its raw form, it had the texture of a scallop. Even in this small quantity, the rich flavor of a fish was a revelation.

I also tried a special at Blue Fish House called spicy escolar roll . It is the typical Blue Fish House roll: lots of sweet sauce, very spicy, suited to the American palate. Yet the flavor of the escolar was strong enough to stand up to the sweet and spicy treatment.

My best escolar experience was grilled escolar at Bistro Moderne. The menu describes it as a "pave of fish with asparagus, soft polenta and borberry (?) vinaigrette." It was, for Bistro Moderne, a surprisingly American preparation. Grilling escolar brings out the full richness of its flavors. The subtle side dishes and sauce left the rich flavor of the escolar to speak for itself.

As much as I love this fish, it has a dark side. The oil in escolar is not digested in humans. That is good for the diet. But it is not so good for our gastrointestinal system. Escolar has earned the nickname "Ex-Lax fish." In portions over 6 ounces, it causes a condition known as keriorrhoea, which rhymes with another, very similar, malady. The Japanese have banned it since 1977. In the U.S., the FDA banned escolar in 1990, but reversed itself a few years later. As one Los Angeles chef said, "It is . . . sort of a crap shoot."

With the small portions at Uchi and Blue Fish House, I had no problems. But the grilled escolar at Bistro Moderne was well over 6 ounces. It was easily the best dish, but it also caused the most pain the next day. Perhaps I should have stopped at about six ounces, but that was far too difficult to do.

There is something intriguing about eating food that may hurt us. The Japanese love fugu, which prepared improperly, is lethal. I recently have noticed a number of new TV shows about hosts who dare to eat strange, disgusting foods around the world. Eating these foods can be a shock to our system, yet we love the challenge. I am reminded of the title of Robb Walsh's excellent book, Are You Really Going To Eat That?

To which I answer, "Hell yes. May I please have more escolar?"

19 comments:

Daniel said...

I'll pass on the anal leakage, thanks.

Cipher said...

"The gastrointestinal symptoms, called keriorrhoea", caused by these wax esters may include oily orange diarrhea, discharge, or leakage from the rectum that may smell of mineral oil. The discharge can stain clothing and occur without warning 30 minutes to 36 hours after consuming the fish. The oil may pool in the rectum and cause frequent urges for bowel movements due to its lubricant qualities and may be accidentally discharged by the passing of gas. Symptoms may occur over a period of one or more days. Other symptoms may include stomach cramps, loose bowel movements, diarrhea, headaches, nausea, and vomiting."
-from Wikipedia "escolar" article

This fish sounds like the perfect delicacy to serve for revenge - cold of course....

anonymouseater said...

You guys are gross. I was at least delicate about describing the specific symptoms. Plus, I think I only had one of all those symptoms, but I won't say which one.

These are the same sort of symptoms that people get when they eat those olestra potato chips. I won't eat those chips because it is not worth the symptoms just to eat a chip without fat. But this fish is so good, it is worth half a day of one or two minor symptoms.

Cipher said...

Do you remember what happened to poor Michel Piccoli in that movie "La Grande Bouffe"?

Christian said...

I ate the delicious "Hawaiian" Escolar this past Thursday ... and yes, due to the "explosive" nature of the fish, I had to leave work early on Friday and then had the same effects once again on Saturday

I spoke with the restaurant and they were aware of the fish's history, but since only a few people have these effects, they still serve it ... they will be giving me a free meal next time I visit

Anonymous said...

I have had this fish in sushi bars and it is delicious, but if you eat too much of it you will have explosive D (far less fun than Tenacious D). If you choose to test your gastronomical limits feel free to stuff yourself. I have determined my limit is 4 pieces before I have to worry about knowing the location of the nearest lavatory. Think of the fun you and your friends could have with this fish; who can eat the most, who can hold it the longest, and the audience favorite who can shoot it the furthest. OK, sorry, that was icky; but the end result (some pun intended) will be the same if you're not careful about your consumption.

philip said...

I love sushi and love trying new things, regardless of the warnings I had to try it and I am glad I took the chances I didn't experience any symptoms and was an amazing flavor not one Ive ever tasted before but would defiantly try again just keep it in small portions and you should be ok.

Sunny said...

wow I never knew that about escolar. but lucky me, i've never encountered that problem and will definitely excercise restraint in the future

Sushi Lovers of Arizona said...

Please report on your escolar experience at http://sushiloversunite.com/2009/11/30/escolar-sushi-diarrhea/. Thanks!

MakiMom of www.sushiloversunite.com

Jethro said...

Please note that there are in fact two different species of Escolar. In the fishing industry they are known as SMOOTH SKIN (Lepidocybium Flavobrunneum) and ROUGH SKIN (Ruvettus Pretiosus)Escolar, the later (Rough Skin) being the much cheaper yet problematic fish causing the purgative problems mentioned above. It is such a pity these two VERY different fish species have been lumped together as it is an amazing eating as well as environmentally sustainable fish to consume.
That being said, I urge people to give this fish a try, and it really is not necessary to even eat more than 5oz of the fish due to how rich and filling this fish is. I honestly believe this fish has earned a bad reputation for an unjust reason based around suppliers trying to save a few pennies and buying the cheaper version. Also, eating too much of anything is going to cause you problems .... however, be sure to ask your purveyor what specie of Escolar they are serving and how was it processed. A good seafood processor would ensure too DEEP-SKIN the Escolar as this would remove the high oil contact muscle tissue between the skin and flesh, drastically reducing the issues mentioned above. The fish supplied by us is all Sashimi grade, 5oz portion controlled that has been DEEP SKINNED.

Anonymous said...

Thanx for the info about the fish!! LOVE the fish!!! So buttery and rich but I suppose just like any thing there is such thing as "to much of a good thing" Got a little oil and was not quite sure what was wrong. Guess I gotta stick to under 5oz. Not as bad as everyone makes it sound and there has to be some health benefit to this. Eat em up ummm!!!

Anonymous said...

Very informative! I've been eating and loving this fish at sushi bars for ages. I plan to keep that up, but will definitely maintain restraint, and not surpass that dreaded 6 ounces!

tiffany785 said...

Oh my golly, you guys are so funny! I love Escolar! It is my favorite fish. I have, luckily, not had this problem. That said, maybe I should eat a WHOLE BUNCH prior to going to work so they will send me home :)

Anonymous said...

Escolar is one of the best sashimi bites. We're having a little grilled Escolar tonight as an appetizer. Don't fear the Escolar, it's truly delicious. If you like fish, you really should try it. That whole wax ester thing makes it unlike any other fish. Just keep it down to a small portion and you should be fine. Don't focus on the downside of eating too much of this unique and delicious fish. I'll puke if I drink too much Cognac, but I still like it and enjoy it in small amounts now and then.

Micah Sylvester said...

Ive been enjoying escolar for years with little to no ill effects..but i only have had 2 to 4 tiny sashimi pieces at once..i didnt know you could have a larger piece, and get it grilled?! My lord id be in heavan....that being said, the Japanese are an ancient ,and very intelligent people and if they banned it,,somethins up!! So im going easy on it.. hey, you never know. :)

Anonymous said...

I have had escolar two or three times before with no ill effects. Two weeks ago I saw it was back on the menu at a favorite restaurant and ended up sick as a dog. After a week I had to go to the ER and found I had acute colitis. So delicious. So not worth the risk.

Anonymous said...

It is delicious. Thats why people remember it so much and still risk the side effects.

Anyone who's tasted the fatty silky flavors knows. The trick is to be able to stop after a few bites,

Anonymous said...

Like Weird Al Yankovic said,just eat it!

Anonymous said...

Like Weird Al Yankovic said,just eat it!