The more America celebrates its new love affair with fish, the more true fish lovers have to worry about. By true lovers I mean those of us who prized that subtly delicate food long before it was in dietary and fashion favor, and who appreciate many varieties, not just the whitest and the blandest. Undeterred by bones, skin or the sight of the whole animal complete with head and eyes on our plate, we pause only for a squirt of lemon juice before wielding a fish fork and knife.
The problem with the new popularity of fish is that since fish has never been among this country's favorite foods (shellfish is another matter), most recent converts "take" it either like medicine or as penance for gastronomic overindulgence. At least that is what I conclude when I hear my table companions say "I should be good and have fish," or "If I order fish, I can have chocolate cheesecake," or "I'm not very hungry, so I might as well have fish."
None of these comments should bother me, of course, because theoretically I am free to eat my way--but only theoretically, as it increasingly turns out both at home and in restaurants. For when marketing rears its profit-minded head, bad drives out good. If most customers want nonfishy fish in user-friendly fillets, that's what stores stock. Gone from the ice-packed display cases are the whole flounders and flukes. Gone are the heaps of slim, silver whitings. And gone are the cod and halibut "in the round" that can be cut into steaks of various thicknesses or into big chunks for poaching (with the center bone intact to retain juices, flavor and texture)--not to mention the live eels and carp swimming in tanks.