Escolar Flavor Profile
Escolar has the unfortunate distinction of being both one of the best tasting fish in the world…and having the most notorious of possible side effects after its consumption. Let’s discuss “the good” first. It has a fabulous flavor and a sultry texture, so much so that some say it is the most enjoyable fish they have ever eaten.
In fact, Escolar has such a high fat content that its silky texture is comparable to the fattiest Tuna. It is this richness, and its relative cheap cost, which makes it popular in sushi restaurants, where it is often deceptively marketed on menus as “white tuna”, “super-white tuna”, “white fish”, “oil fish”, or “bincyo”.
Escolar has brilliant white flesh with a satiny texture and a rich, succulent flavor which some have described as similar to halibut but with a richer, more satiny texture. When cooked, it takes flavors well but due to its high fat content it is best with preparations such as marinades, rubs, fruit salsas, etc which are not “heavy” or creamy.
Typical Cooking Methods
The only US FDA approved name for Escolar is Escolar. Because of the possible side effects, all other names are deceptive at best, fraudulent at worst. Japanese name: Aburasokomutsu
Common (erroneous) Marketing Names: Black Oilfish, Snake Mackerel , White Tuna, Super White Tuna, White Fish, Oil Fish, Bincyo, Butterfish, Hawaiian Butterfish, Walu, Waloo.
Possibly Sold Fraudulently as: Atlantic Cod, Oilfish, Rudderfish, Blue Cod, Black Cod, King Tuna, Grouper, Orange Roughy, Sea Bass, Gemfish, Chilean Sea Bass, Albacore Tuna, and White Tuna.
Mislabeling seems to be most prominent on sushi menus where the names White Tuna, Super-White Tuna, White Fish, Oil Fish, and Bincyo are often actually Escolar.
The Bad News
OK, now for the notorious news! Escolar is so high in fat that it is known as the Ex-Lax fish, and Hawaiians call it Maku’u, “exploding intestines”!
Escolar are not able to metabolize the wax esters (called gempylotoxin) which are naturally present in their diet. As a result, these oils gather in their flesh, giving them an oil content of 14% – 25% and are the reason for their satiny texture and mouth feel. These wax esters are large oil molecules which are similar to castor oil and are hard for humans to process in high quantities as well. Having too much can result in a temporary, very embarrassing, but typically harmless condition known as keriorrhea (Greek for “flow of wax”). The symptoms…an uncontrollable diarrhea-like expulsion of yellowish-orange oil which occurs anywhere from 30 minutes and 36 hours later! Other digestive side effects which some people have reported may include: headache, stomach cramps, vomiting, nausea, and anal leakage. Not pleasant! And many people report that the onset is sudden and uncontrollable, as in, “What the @!#%!&? I need to change my pants.”
Because of the understandable public outcry, various nations have regulated Escolar in different manners. Italy and Japan have banned it out right. Canada, Denmark, and Sweden all require warning labels to be on the product when sold. And in the US, the FDA temporarily banned Escolar in the early 1990’s, but then lifted the ban in 1992 after it determined that the fish was not toxic and did not pose a public health risk…possibly embarrassing, yes; health risk, no.
Many people incorrectly report keriorrhea as food poisoning, but it actually is the natural purgative effects of consuming too much of this type of oil. Harold McGee, author of ”On Food and Cooking” (Scribner, 1984), describes the process as follows: ”The wax esters therefore pass intact, their lubricating properties undiminished, from the small intestine into the colon, where a sufficient quantity will defeat our normal control over the ultimate disposition of food residues.”
He further states that Escolar have been used in folk medicine in the Canary Islands, with the earliest written reference to the fishes’ purgative properties occurring in 1841.
Some say that “deep skinning” or grilling can help reduce the possible side effects of keriorrhea, but niether of these claims have been proven. Others say that cuts from the tail may contain a lower fat content. However, the only commonly accepted wisdom for Escolar consumption is, “Moderation in all good things” and the strict standard is to consume 6 oz or less (7 oz is like having 2 Tbl of caster oil!). Chef Charlie Trotter described Escolar as “Wonderfully succulent,” in his cookbook ”Charlie Trotter’s Seafood” (Ten Speed Press, 1997). Chef Trotter says, ”A spoon is all you really need” (his recipe specifies 3 oz portions.)
Who serves Escolar?
So, if it is so good, and yet so bad, who actually dares to serve this fish? Actually, a number of chefs have fired up their stoves to serve this scrumptiously notorious fish. It appears that they must believe that eating Escolar is like consuming alcohol…a little is fine, but if you have too much the effects will be unpleasant. Here are some of the chefs who have successfully served this fish:
- Bravo’s Top Chef contestant Nina Compton – Tuna and Escolar Tartar With Tomato Water and Jalapeno
- Emeril Lagasse – Escolar with Arugula Pesto
- Eric Ripert’s Surf and Turf – Escolar and Kobe Beef, Le Bernardin – NYC
- Eric Ripert – Poached Hawaiian Escolar
- Emeril Lagasse – Grilled Escolar with a Sauté of Fresh Asparagus, Baby Morels & Currant Tomatoes
- Eric Ripert – Escolar With Red-Wine Béarnaise, Le Bernardin – NYC
- John Greeley – Australian Lobster–Escolar Ceviche, ‘21’ Club – NYC
- Vincent Pouessel – Citrus Grilled Escolar, Aureole – Las Vegas
- Charlie Trotter – Escolar with braised endive, fava beans, & veal stock reduction, Charlie Trotter’s – Chicago
- Norman Van Aken – Pan-roasted Gulf escolar with braised escarole, Norman’s – Coral Gables
- Laurent Gras – Escolar Jamón, L2O – Chicago
High-fat fish tend to spoil faster than low-fat fish and this is especially true with Escolar. If purchased fresh then it should be consumed within 2 days. If it was frozen, serve it on the same day it is thawed.
Typical Wholesale Products
Beware of fish vendors who give a FRAUDULENT sales pitch such as this, “Escolar (Lepidocybium flavobrunneum) is sometimes confused with Oil Fish (Ruvettus pretiosus), which has been known to cause intestinal problems and/or Keriorrhea. Always verify the fish species to confirm that you are purchasing true Escolar.”
They are falsely suggesting that Escolar does not cause intestinal problems in some people if they eat too much of it. If your salesman gives you this pitch, dump them! At best, they are dumb as a rock. And at worst they are selling you all kinds of illegitimate seafood.
Escolar Description (Lepidocybium flavobrunneum)
Looking at Escolar you will notice that the rings around the large eyes almost appear to be eye glasses. Because of this appearance, the Spanish named the fish Escolar, which is Spanish for scholar. They have dark brown skin, turning darker with age until it is very black. They are rather similar to Tuna in body shape, and are similarly a fast-swimming fish. The largest recorded length is 79 inches (200 cm) and 100 pounds. But the average length is about 39 inches (150 cm).
Fresh seafood availability chart: green areas show peak availability, light green show limited availability, gray indicates not available fresh. Frozen available all year long.
Butchering Yield Percentage
|Item||To Skin/On Fillets||To Skin/Off Fillets||Notes|
|Whole Head/On gutted||na||na||If you have yield info on this fish please leave a comment below.|
|Yield % varies according to a number of factors including: size of fish, season, sex, and the skill of your fishmonger.|
Escolar Sustainability Info
|Name||Alternate Names||Catch Method||Catch|
|Escolar||Walu, Aburasokomutsu||Wild, Longline||US, Hawaii||na||na||na||High|
|Disclaimer: The sustainability info above is accurate to the best of our knowledge. However, each program randomly updates their information without our knowledge. We therefore recommend that you verify the current accuracy of this information.|
|= Best Choice/Recommended = Good Alternative = Avoid/Not Recommended||Updated|
Range & Habitat
With the possible exception of the northern Indian Ocean, Escolar is found world-wide in temperate & tropical waters at depths between 600 – 2655 feet.
Its diet includes squids, crustaceans and many other fishes.
based upon a 6 oz (171 grams) raw edible serving.
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David Buchanan is a professional chef and author of Chefs-Resources.com, a site geared towards providing chefs and culinarians useful info to help in their kitchens.
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