Monday, March 26, 2007

Fair Fish

March 26

Fish isn't what it used to be. I grew up on the Gulf Coast -- fish country -- where seafood was bountiful. We ate fresh snapper from the bay, king mackeral from the Gulf, flounder, shrimp, oysters, blue crabs, and all kinds of little fish like mullet. Mostly we ate them dredged in cornmeal and fried.

In 1988 I moved back home only to find the world of seafood had changed. Amberjack and grouper, trash fish in my youth, were both now menu favorites, and salmon, tilapia, catfish, orange roughy, and all kinds of new names were the flavor of the day. Not all that easy to find fried flounder or mullet on the menu. In fact, people thought mullet was a hairdo.

Saturday night I went with friends to a new seafood joint on a local tributary named Fish River, and got the fish basket. It was indeed a tasty, fresh-tasting something, and my sister and I were curious. We asked the owner, a personable young man, what we were eating and he said it was basa. Blank looks all around. He went on to explain that basa is a relative of the grouper. Not that we didn't trust him, but we couldn't wait to get home and Google this.

Turns out basa is a Vietnamese farm-raised catfish. There is "real" basa and "non-real" basa, that is, other fish sold as basa, so we were left wondering what we had actually been served. It had a nice texture, which would make it unlikely that it was frozen, and a mildly fishy, pleasant taste.

The Internet warns that basa is to be avoided as it is raised in cages and fed human waste -- but the article was published in 2002 so who knows what the story is today.

The fish of our local waters is seldom served today. We are dependent on varieties shipped from all over. The only fish monger selling local flounder and crabs just closed its doors last week. I will miss it.

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