Rebranding Escolar

Who knew we’d be eating one of the world’s most dangerous fish?

My wife, Sharon, asked me to pick up some fish for dinner at the independent Heckenberger’s Fish Market in the Allentown, PA Farmers Market.

They were busy, as usual, and when it was my turn I sought recommendations for wild-caught ocean fish.

“Aren’t you the guy who likes blue fish?” the seller remembered.

“Yep, that’s me,” I said.

“Have you ever tried escolar?” he asked.

“No. Tell me about it.”

“It’s an ocean fish, one of the most flavorful I’ve ever tasted. It’s become one of my favorites.”

The misunderstood escolar

I ended up with two steak cuts of escolar, totaling about 1.5 pounds…and on sale.

When I got home with my catch, Sharon asked what I bought. “Escolar. The fish guy really likes it.”

“I’ve never had it. See what you can learn about it,” Sharon said.

I grabbed my go-to resource, Fish Forever by Paul Johnson, and checked out the index to find some recipes.


“What’s wrong?” asked Sharon.

In 448 pages of text, there was only one mention of escolar—and it was in the Glossary of Health and Safety Concerns.

“The wonderfully rich flavor of escolar (Lepidocybium flavobrunneum) and oil fish (Ruvettus pretiosus) has made both species menu favorites from Miami to Seattle. Caught in the South Pacific and Gulf of Mexico, escolar and oil fish—of the Gempylidae, or snake mackerel, family—contain waxy esters in their fatty tissue, similar to those found in the fat substitute Olestra. These indigestible waxy esters have powerful laxative properties that affect people to varying degrees.”

The warning went on to describe some of the unfortunate side-effects that a person may suffer if he or she consumes more than five or six ounces of the fish.

Smart Brander can help a fish overcome image issues

I went online and found vivid stories about the pleasure and pain of eating too much escolar. A couple of countries, Italy and Japan, have banned escolar outright. Others have ordered strict identification rules to discourage mislabeling. Here’s a tip: “white tuna” seems to be a very popular mislabeling of escolar.

Enlightened and undaunted, we pan roasted ours with potatoes, onions, red bell peppers, extra virgin olive oil, cracked fennel, salt and pepper. We served three-ounces of the fish with the vegetables on each of our plates.

It was succulent, flavor-packed and buttery. Our eyes met after our first bites. “Wow, this is special.”

I have to admit it was kind of a thrill to taste something so satisfying knowing that one bite too many could result in a lot of discomfort. I felt a distant, adventurous kinship with the brave souls who dare to eat fugu, the Japanese blowfish that can kill you if not properly prepared.

Our meal was memorable for the right reasons and we suffered no ill effects.

We had leftovers. A little escolar goes a long way: we’ve made three different, two-person dinners with about 24-ounces of escolar including a salad with the fish thinly sliced.

As other fish varieties such as bluefin tuna, grouper, Atlantic halibut and cod become overfished, depleted and expensive, the bycatch products like escolar get more display case space and achieve a competitive price advantage.

I couldn’t find a trade association committed solely to promoting escolar. My fish seller never mentioned the potential side effects of escolar. Restaurants continue to offer it (more often in appetizer-sized portions or as sushi or sashimi). I can understand why menus don’t mention the potential side effects of over consumption.

Yet, if someone would eat what they consider a normal sized American entrée portion (perhaps eight ounces) and suffer extreme gastric distress, they would probably never have escolar again, nor patronize the establishment that sold it.

Rebrand the “Ex-lax®” fish

Here comes the branding opportunity. What if consumers knew about the incredible flavor of escolar and were fully forewarned about the importance of moderate consumption? More people would be eating this tasty fish. And sellers could avoid customer backlash.

So imagine creating a tagline for the risk/reward challenged escolar? Let’s have some fun. Here are a couple to get you started:

Escolar: Less is more.

Escolar: So tasty it’s hard to stop at five ounces. But eat more, and you’ll never stop.

Escolar: Too much of a good thing will make you very, very sorry.

Escolar: Of course, something so exquisite must have a downside. Stop at five ounces.

Escolar: Tastes great! Eat less!

Please submit your taglines, and any experiences you’ve had with escolar. If you haven’t tried it, please do. Just go easy.

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