Grouper, Catfish; What Am I Eating Here?
You ordered grouper ...
... but what ends up on your plate might be catfish or another whitefish mislabeled by unscrupulous businesses.
Buy it whole if you can: Billy Cissel, owner of Billy's Boat House Grill, starts by buying an 18-pound Grey grouper for $92 from a seafood distributor in Mayport. Buying a whole fish is the most foolproof way of getting grouper. Grey grouper is the kind fisherman catch off Jacksonville's coast. In the Gulf of Mexico, fisherman catch red grouper.
Carving the fish: Cissel carves out 8 pounds of fillets. That translates to a cost of $11.50 per pound for his purchase price of $92 for the fish. If he had bought the fish already cut into fillets, the price would have been $12.95 a pound for fresh-caught grouper.
How can people be sure it's grouper in fillet form? For starters, it should be a whitefish. Cissel said he also looks for hairline streaks of red in the meat. Grouper is a big fish, so the fillets should likewise be thick. He said if a seafood market is selling grouper for less than $9 per pound, he's skeptical whether it's really grouper.
What's in the sandwich? Cissel fries a half-pound of grouper for a sandwich. The order of grouper sandwich and french fries will sell for $15 to $16. Cissel said a chef could take most kinds of whitefish and prepare a tasty sandwich. The more fish is fried, blackened and covered in sauces, the less its natural flavor stands out. A similar portion of grouper on a dinner plate will cost around $18.
"Everyone wants to be sure that they're getting grouper, and it's going to be harder to get," said Robert Rukab, owner of St. Johns Seafood and Steaks, a restaurant chain based in Jacksonville.
Grouper is a prize catch because diners like its mild flavor and white, flaky meat. Florida is known for grouper because it's caught in the coastal waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.
However, the fish also comes into the state from all over the world. Seventy different species of grouper are imported into the United States, including Asian grouper that sells at half the cost of the kind caught in Florida.
On top of that trade, unscrupulous businesses sell cheaper fish under the grouper name, said Bob Jones, executive director of the Southeastern Fisheries Association, which represents Florida fisheries, importers and exporters.
"It's going to rattle the consumer's confidence in fish," he said. "It's just not right for someone to pay for one thing and get something else."