Wednesday, August 17, 2005

A Fish Called Escolar, a public service announcement courtesy of me

There are many things I could type about right now -- things done, things doing, things to do -- but instead I'd like to focus on my recent run in with a fish I've never heard before. A cautionary tale... of a fish called escolar.

Warning: if you're squeamish or don't like it when I talk crude, leave now. I'll attempt to filter though.

On Thursday, when Mom was in town, A. took us out (aw, a date... with... my mom.) to eat at M.--, a cool, funky, fusion-y restaurant that I like a lot.

(I'm leaving out the name of the restaurant specifically because I don't want any googlers coming here and thinking it's a review or something. And especially cos I still like this place a lot, and don't think it's really their fault. I'm talking smack on a fish, not the vendors.)

Anyway, A.'s friend C. was the waiter who served us, and he spoke highly of the fish special. A savory, buttery white fish called escolar which feeds on crabs, and as a result takes on a slight essence of crabmeat in its flavor.

Sounded lovely. A. and I both ordered it. And it was damn good. Reminiscent of Chilean Sea Bass, with a lot less guilt. (I don't think it's on the overfished list. Not sure tho.)

The next day I had stomach cramps. Not the National Airport grade sushi stomach cramps, but decently gut wrenching ones. The most horrific thing, however, was the bathroom-oriented side effects. I mean, runs are one thing, but my body was doing things I had never ever witnessed, or even *heard* of happening before as a result of bad food. The notorious side effect of Xenical (but I am not on Xenical) and the words "Exxon Valdez" came to mind.

Yes. Horrible.

I googled my symptoms, thinking it's not food related. A few hours later, I was debating between whether it was my liver, pancreas, or gall bladder that just quit working. And calculating how much a transplant of said organs might cost. I was not happy. I was in fact, pretty freaked out.

A few days later, the symptoms cleared up. I was whole again. And happy.

In celebration of my liver still operating, (OK, not really, we were celebrating something else) I went with a crew o' folks to M---a's (different place) for their 2-fer Tuesday, and while there, A. and I spied the waiter C.

"Thanks for the diaharrea inducing meal!" A. joked. Half-joked, I guess. And C. said, "Oh my god. I have to tell you what I found out."

C. explained that while he had *tasted* the special, he never had it for dinner himself. And later in the evening a couple approached him, overhearing his promotion of the escolar, and told him how escolar ruined their honeymoon. In the same way it ruined my few days. Turns out this fish is, essentially, a laxative.

Further research on my part later confirmed this. The fats produced by the escolar are difficult for many people to absorb/digest, hence the unpleasant side effects. Anecdotally speaking, it has been accused of killing someone (1). Scientifically speaking, the research literature is not extensive, but epidemiologists in Australia (the home of the fish in question) do advise that fishmongers and restauranteurs be made aware of it's side effects. (2, 3)

There's pictures of the offender in (3). Try this search for size reference in pictures.

In concluding, am I recommending that you, good reader, never try escolar? Of course not! I'm all about adventurous eating. But just don't eat a thick steak of it at the first go. Or at least know what you're getting into.

This concludes this PSA sponsored by your very own Nikki G. Because I CARE about YOU.

(btw, I do intend, however, to email M.'s chefs about this, because maybe they're not aware of this notorious side effect, and I think it is most definately worth sharing.)

1: NBC affiliate report

2. Yohannes K, Dalton CB, Halliday L, Unicomb LE, Kirk M. An outbreak of gastrointestinal illness associated with the consumption of escolar fish. Commun Dis Intell 2002;26:441-445.

3. Diarrhoea associated with consumption of escolar (rudderfish). Commun Dis Intell. 2002;26(3):436-8

Edited to add: Another quick search found this blog post about the topic. Very amusing.


Blogger a said...

Wow! So sorry you had to experience that, but thanks for warning the rest of us.

Thursday, August 18, 2005 8:49:00 AM  
Blogger dayone said...

Jesus! Well consider us warned.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005 8:49:00 AM  
Anonymous Chris Wage said...

You realize of course that I now treat this as a challenge and must immediately try it.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005 9:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Michelle said...

oh dear...

Thursday, August 25, 2005 1:26:00 PM  
Blogger Nicole said...

No problem.

Chris -- Go for it! In Nashville? They're probably still serving it. If you haven't figured out where already, lemme know.

In follow-up news, I've been playing phone tag with the chef. Will post more info in this space with the thrilling conclusion. I hope they don't think I'm being bitchy about it.

Friday, August 26, 2005 10:45:00 AM  
Anonymous Muffy Wong said...

Not good that the restaurant served it without looking into the side effects.

Thanks for the warning. I love fish and would have tried it had I not known this.

Friday, August 26, 2005 12:48:00 PM  
Blogger Nicole said...

The follow-up scoop: Chef at said restaurant called me back, thanked me for the information and was really happy I wrote to inform about the situation. Chef even spoke to Other Chef at Z-- and he too said that not only was escolar known for aforementioned effects, but it has been commonly mislabelled as halibut by some fishmongers.

No, I did not get my dinner comped. But Chef did ask for me to say hi when I went next time.

"Hi! I'm the one with oily diaharrea! Two please!"

Fin. (ha! fin... fish story...)

Tuesday, August 30, 2005 11:51:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a shame, I feel guilty about you. I have a fish packing plant and I ship a lot of oilfish, (escolar) around the world, sorry buddy.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006 12:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I recently enjoyed this fish at an upscale San Antonio restaraunt. It was the most incredible tasting fish I have ever had. It was simply put...ORGASMIC! I did not have any side effects from this fish what so fact i'm trying to find out where I can buy this fish so i can have it more often.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006 11:12:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi I've had this fish a couple times once at our work cafe and it was very nice. I don't think had a bad side effect since it wasn't a huge serving. I then had it again last weekend when my mom said she's been buying this very cheap and delicious 'sea bass' for 3.99 a lb! She steamed it and got rid of all the juice that came out in the cooking and it was still delicious. I didn't realize that time that it was escolar until I went to the market and saw the price sign mislabeling the fish as 'sea bass' while on the package was 'Escolar Steak' - sheesh. I think you should try the fish, just don't try to eat a lb of it!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007 8:18:00 PM  

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