Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Odd Parrotfish

Parrotfish are found living in and feeding on coral reefs throughout the world.  Their sweet, crab-like flesh is a favorite of many Caribbean and Baja natives, and their spectacular, iridescent colors are why people travel thousands of miles to scuba.  You won't find many examples of the species sold stateside, as warm water fish can sometimes carry toxins just like many other reef dwellers.  However, there is a fishery in the Gulf of California, also known as the Sea of Cortez, that harvests toxin-free fish.

Caroline's Parrotfish is harvested in the Sea of Cortez by fishermen on pangas (small boats) using the hook and line method.  This ensures that there is little damage to the surrounding environment and minimal bycatch.

Parrotfish have some unique characteristics that set them apart from others:

  • Parrotfish feed on algae and coral using teeth that are fused into powerful beaks, which is where they get their namesake.  
  • Their color schemes can vary by their age and sex and will change several times throughout their life span.  Male parrotfish are known to have the more vibrant stripes and hues and usually the brighter the colors, the older and more dominant the male.  Not everything is as it seems though.  Like their cousins the wrasse, who's family includes the beloved tautog, parrotfish are hermaphrodites.  Many parrotfish start out as females and later turn into males.  
  • Parrotfish congregate in harems, a situation where one dominant male lives with many females as his mates.  If something happens to the male, then a female will transform into a male to fill the vacancy.  
  • If you were wondering whether or not fish sleep, most do, and the parrotfish is one of them.  When sleeping, the parrotfish will secrete a mucous shield that covers its body for protection.

Feeding on coral and algae gives parrotfish a sweet, shellfish flavor.  It is a unique flavor, one that locals in Baja hold in high esteem.  If you come across responsibly sourced parrotfish in the market, I recommend giving it a try for dinner.  The fillets are white, meaty, and easy to saute or braise.  Just make sure that the species is not threatened and that it comes from cold, safe waters like the Sea of Cortez.  Caroline's Parrotfish from this area is a delicious choice for a Caribbean style dinner.          

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