Sunday, December 17, 2006

What's Up with Triggerfish?

It seems like every time I've been out to a halfway nice restaurant recently "triggerfish" has been on the list of specials. It sounds exotic, and not too long ago at Red Drum Gastropub in Mount Pleasant I sampled some of my dining companion's triggerfish dish and found it to be pretty darn tasty--a white, flaky, firm fish, which they had served with a light buttery sauce. Over at Ping Island Strike, Sean Brock from McCrady's has a photo of triggerfish with eggplant, black truffles, tomato, and maiitake mushrooms that looks fantastic.

But, I can't recall ever having seen triggerfish on a restaurant menu before the fall of 2006.
There doesn't seem to be much written about the triggerfish, but they are certainly popping up at restaurants all over the South. The triggerfish is related to red snapper and grouper, but it has a lot of bones and is tough to skin, and half of its body consists of the head, which cuts down on the amount of usable meat and may explain their relative obscurity up until now. An article on North Carolina fishmonger Jon Haag notes "hogfish and triggerfish used to be considered 'trash fish' by commercial fishermen, seafood shop owners, and restaurateurs. Now, both are in high demand and command prices three or four times higher than their 'trashy' label once allowed."
But, I've not seen any explanation for this recent rise in popularity.
One factor may be the renewed interest among restauranteurs (particularly here in Charleston) in serving fresh, locally-caught seafood. But is there more to the story? Has someone perfected a way of easily skinning and filetting the previously-stubborn fish? Or, perhaps some clever distributors have figured out how to take an inexpensive trash fish you could once barely give away and upsell it to susceptible cooks and consumers.
It does taste good, though.


Walter said...

It's all in the name, man, Taking its cue from the toothfish, someone out there realized "triggerfish" is just great fun to say.

Mike Kimball said...

Before assuming that they are the result of a clever marketing effort on the part of distributors or that they have been simply overlooked, you should check out that status of more traditional commercial fish in your area. I'm willing to bet there aren't many of them left due to overfishing and environmental degradation, so the industry has moved on to "trash fish" that haven't been overexploited yet. In a few years, there won't be any triggerfish left either and we'll be eating something else we've never seen on the menu before (until that one disappears, too).

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