Saturday, March 16, 2013


Recently a number of news organizations announced the discovery of a fraudulent practice among restaurants and even among a few fishmongers. It seems that you may wind up being served tialapa instead of red snapper, or a cheaper variety of tuna than what is advertised.
This is news? This has been going on since dog was a donut. Unscrupulous "chefs" have been cutting "scallops" out of flounder filets for years. Toss these fake "scallops" with enough garlic, butter, and capers and they pass quite handily as coqiells St. Jacques.
Some years ago we ordered "scallops" from an Arthur Treacher's Fish and Chips franchise. They seemed a bit large and a lot too uniform in size, so we dissected one. After we peeled away the breading, we found our "scallop" to be composed of a coiled strip of flaked, pressed, formed God-knows-what. Allegedly, it was some kind of seafood. To be fair, we didn't really expect six real scallops for three bucks and change, but still we believe if you are selling scallops, then scallops are what you must provide. It would have been acceptable if the menu listing was "flaked rolled scallop strips" - but only if the strip was composed of scallop trimmings, and maybe it was. And maybe it wasn't.
The other day we were watching television when an ad for the "Checkers" chain of fast-food joints came on, touting a fish sandwich made from "fresh-caught Alaskan filet".
Alaskan whale turd? Alaskan seagull? Well, we suppose it is some kind of fish caught in Alaskan waters; and almost anything you haul up out of Alaskan waters is pretty tasty. So we guess we'll give Checkers a pass on this one, so long as they actually use something caught off Alaska, and it's fish filet and not "flaked processed" squid or some such.
What's dishonest about all this is of course that cheap ingredients are being passed off as more expensive ingredients. Farm-raised catfish tastes amazingly like Dover sole. But nobody is going to pay thirty bucks for "filet of catfish". 
So here's our suggestion: When you order fish at some restaurant, carve off about a cubic inch worth and wrap it in a napkin and take it home. Call your consumer protection agency and have them analyze the sample. And if your scallop turns out to be flounder, raise holy hell.  We know times are tough, but don't try to sell a Volkswagen and call it an Audi. 

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