Wednesday, March 19, 2008

See food? Is it from the "sea," really

An interesting conversation came about during our last trip to the grocery (our bill for one month -- excluding buying restocks on perishables like milk and eggs through the month -- $284 for a family of four) wandered past the seafood counter.

"But catfish doesn't live in the sea."

The 8-year-old, who is convinced shrimp are manna from heaven, had a good point. "Seafood" means many things to many people. I'm always amused at how catfish restaurants advertise themselves as having "seafood" on their signs or in their advertisements.

A few of the warring definitions of seafood in the foodie universe include one group that considers only shellfish "seafood." I'm not quite sure where they think halibut and cod -- that versatile powerhouse of fish -- come from, if not a sea.

Another set thinks it can be expanded to any critter that comes from a sea/ocean environment: halibut, lobsters, etc. I confess, I'm in that camp. Catfish is not seafood. It's great stuff, mind you, but trying to gussy up this Southern classic by calling it "seafood" is not only pretentious, it's wrong.

The broadest definition includes the one that prevails around much of the U.S. that doesn't live on a coast: anything that comes from water.

Not sure where that puts tilapia (right) -- a farm-raised and developed fish that doesn't have a lot of distinctive flavor, a characteristic that makes it popular with American diners. It's second only to salmon, depending on which restaurant poll you're looking at.