While in Dubai I had a lovely white fleshed fish called Barramundi at the fine restaurant that sits on top of the Burj al Arab. The fish was on the specials list that night, and was simply grilled with a beurre blanc sauce or something similarly rich yet mild tasting. I thought for certain that this was some type of locally sourced fish, found only in the Indian Ocean. The name invoked African languages (or so I thought), and so I had myself convinced this was the ‘sea bass’ of the Indian Ocean. The taste did not betray these assumptions, as it was mild and not oily at all with a nice bite. In short, it tasted and behaved on a plate very much like Pacific sea bass.
This post has been rattling around in my head since then, primarily because I could not remember the name of the fish. It is not listed in my ‘Fish on a First-Name Basis’ book (aside – a really interesting read by Rob DeBorde, a writer for ‘Good Eats’. See this link on Google books.) It does not turn up on any searches for ‘Indian Sea Bass’ or similar aliases. I was about ready to give it up and just figured I would try and find out more next time I am in the AP region, but last week I went to Mark’s for a company function.
I’ve been to Mark’s once before for a birthday, and was impressed – although I was not feeling well on the night of that previous visit it was clear that the restaurant is deserving of its reputation as one of the nicest in Houston. On my last visit Barramundi happened to be a special. Although I did not order it (I had a Kobe beef sirloin with Robuchon potatoes – yum!!), I immediately recognized the name and this time was able to put it to memory.
So, I’ve done completed my research. At that moment at Mark’s I was duly impressed. Here was this fish that I believed could only be sourced from the Indian Ocean (likely in Africa!) on the menu at a restaurant in Houston.
However, my research on the interwebs has pointed out that Barramundi is farmed across the world. Mainly this is because it is a freshwater fish which spawns in brackish coastal waters, kind of like the opposite of salmon – so it can live almost anywhere. It also comes from Australia and not Africa. The Wikipedia entry for this fish has a number of references to various stories about it’s commercial impact, but the link I followed was to an Australian company that maintains a US farm for growing Barramundi.
All of this sounds great, but I suppose I am a bit disillusioned. I tend towards ridiculously grand notions that fine restaurants obtain ingredients in an extremely rustic way that depends entirely on the vision of the chef to see the potential in an ingredient sourced from some faraway or otherwise unglamorous place. In the case of Barramundi I conjured up an image of the executive chef on a culinary expedition to Australia, meeting some local fisherman on the wharves of Perth and ‘discovering’ this Sea Bass of the Subcontinent. This fish, nothing special and just another thing to be eaten to the locals, had potential for greatness – a potential recognized by the gifted executive chef. So, he sets up a custom supply chain with this local fisherman to get some of this lovely new seafood back to his restaurant in Houston, and becomes the only proprietor in Texas (perhaps the entire USA) to have Barramundi on his menu.
To discover that my grand notions are hogwash is not a surprise, but that this fish most likely came from a farm in Massachusetts is a bit disappointing to me for some reason. Regardless, Barramundi is tasty and I highly recommend it for it’s good eating qualities, whether farmed or more romantically sourced.