skip to Main Content



Is it a good idea to eat a fish that is sometimes referred to as the “ex-lax” fish? And what makes me think I should eat it when its consumption is banned in Japan and Italy?   Well, I wasn’t aware of these tidbits of information when I purchased the fish at my local fish market, Nassau Seafood. There it was sitting on ice chips, looking white and fleshy and appetizing, with a name I didn’t recognize. The guy ahead of me was buying it too, and he sounded like he’d eaten it before and liked it.  I try to broaden my taste experiences now and then, so I bought a small chunk too, then proceeded to look it up online when I got home. January 2011 395 It’s found in tropical and temperate waters around the world and has a dark colored skin.  According to Wikipedia, it’s sometimes called “white tuna” or “butterfish” but these names are misleading. It does have a buttery flavor though, which is why people like it.  It’s even on the menu at Eric Ripert’s paean to all things fish – Le Bernardin. So far, so good, right? So why the negative moniker? Obs_smiths_escolar3 Well, there have been reports of intestinal problems, similar to food poisoning. Stay near a bathroom, some food bloggers report. This is due to escolar’s inability to digest certain wax esters that it ingests, giving it an oil content of up to 25 percent. I wasn’t too reassured after reading that, so I called the store where I bought the fish and spoke to owner Jack Morrison. After calling his supplier, Jack called me back and gave me more information on the fish I’d just bought. It was caught off the Bahamas in the Florida straights, where most of the big-finned fish, like swordfish and tuna are caught.  The fish were landed at Cherry Point, South Carolina, so they are considered local fish, he said. They’re the smooth-skinned variety, he said, another point that’s crucial, because the rough-skinned escolar is what causes the problem. According to Wikipedia: “The greatest concern around this fish is the mislabeling of the rough skin escolar for that of its higher priced smooth skin escolar relative. This has created significant bad press by consumers due to the inappropriate processing (not-deep skinning the fish) and selling the cheaper (rough) skin fish that has a significantly higher oil content than that of the more expensive, smooth skin fish causing purgative issues.” Whew, that’s better, I thought, because now my curiosity had really been piqued and I was ready to try the fish no matter what. “We’ve had very good response and have been incident free when the fish are local and are caught relatively quickly and we know the process,” Jack said. “However, all the blogs suggest you eat small portions of this fish.” Which is what I did, since I had purchased a piece that weighed a little less than 6 ounces.  I marinated it for a short while, then cooked it in a grill pan and served it with a salsa made of different colored heirloom tomatoes that looked really fresh and delicious at the market, even though it’s midwinter. The fish was firm and fleshy, like a cross between a Chilean sea bass and a tuna (if tuna were white) and the taste was sort of buttery, but not oily at all. No wonder people like this fish.  Hey, I don’t know what Japan and Italy are thinking, but if it’s good enough for Eric Ripert, it’s good enough for me. January 2011 403 Grilled Escolar with Heirloom Tomato Salsa Printable Recipe Here

  • 1 6-ounce piece of escolar
  • about 2 T. soy sauce
  • 1 minced garlic clove
  • Marinate the fish with the soy sauce and garlic for about 15 minutes. Then cook in a hot grill pan over the range, or on an outdoor grill for about 5 minutes on each side, or until flesh is firm. Serve with tomato salsa

Tomato Salsa

  • heirloom tomatoes (yellow, red, orange) – enough for 1 cup minced
  • 1/2 jalapeno pepper
  • a few slices of minced bell pepper, optional
  • a few slices of onion, minced
  • minced fresh herbs – cilantro, dill or basil
  • salt, pepper to taste
  • splash of olive oil
  • splash of white balsamic or white wine vinegar
  • Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl and serve over the fish.


This Post Has 30 Comments
  1. I have never heard of it – but that thick white interior looks buttery smooth. It's on my radar now. Astounded and pleased that you could find lovely tomatoes in February!

  2. Ok, not sure if you talked me into eating this fish yet, but it certainly looks beautiful! I have never heard of Escolar before.
    Maybe a slice of prune cake for dessert?

  3. I've never heard of this fish, but good for you for doing what sounds like thorough research before preparing this. Your fish looks moist, and perfectly grilled. I take it you didn't have any ill effects…

  4. I'm one of those unfortunate people who's had a bad experience with this fish. It was one of the most delicious pieces of fish I have ever eaten and enjoyed it at arguably the best seafood restaurant in Rhode Island, while entertaining customers for work. The waitress referred to it as "Hawaiian White Tuna" or "Butterfish" and made no mention of the potential ill side-effects. Let's just say that after an extremely embarrassing experience the next day in the office (and a ruined pair of pants – think Olestra warnings) not to mention a heck of a scare (I had no idea what caused my intestinal difficulties at the time) I drove back to the restaurant that afternoon and had a heated discussion with the restaurant manager. Luckily, my customers had something less exotic. All I can say is that I would definitely think twice before risking it with Escolar. The potential consequences are not something I would wish on anyone!

  5. Oooh, that last comment was a little scary! Fortunately everything worked out for you and it wasn't the other kind. It looks beautiful the way you prepared it but I must admit I might be a little hesitant to buy some, I have visions of Olestra running through my mind right now!

  6. P&B Fan – So sorry you had that experience. I had none of that and all I can think is that the restaurant might have served you the rough-skinned variety, which causes the problem. Always ask for the smooth-skinned variety (and if it's deep-skinned). That's the one you want.
    Unfortunately, it gets a bad rap from being lumped with the rough-skinned variety, a whole different animal.

  7. I've never seen escolar in a fish market in my area. I love halibut so am sure I would enjoy this fish as well. It's fun to try something new. Thanks for the info, Linda.

  8. very interesting…Never had escolar before but it might be good if a Japanese foodie could weigh in it. Over there they eat fugu or puffer fish which is deadly when not prepared properly so I'm curious what they have to say about escolar.

  9. Never heard of this fish and from what you tell us I'll never have to worry about it here in Italy. It puzzles me though that Japanese would ban it when they have the "fugu" which is so potentially dangerous that the interiors have to be put in a closed, sealed and controlled container by themselves, locked, then collected daily by a special team!

  10. How interesting and nice to have learned this. It sure looks very pretty and tasty. I have never heard of it before now. I think I will stick with Salmon, Halibut and Pollock. Polluck being my favorite and supposed to be very good for us. I am behind in reading online stuff once again. I wanted to tell you that your Lava Cake has my name on it for sometime really soon.

  11. Thanks for this informative post! To be honest, I had never even heard of escolar (means school boy/girl in Spanish, by the way–I wonder if there's any connection). It actually sounds like some great eating. I am really fond of fatty fishes.

  12. Full disclosure is warranted with Escolar. See "Symptoms may include stomach cramps, bright orange oil in stool, diarrhea, headaches, nausea, vomiting, and anal leakage."

    Even if you are personally willing to risk these potential consequences, would you want even the slightest chance that a guest you're serving experience these symptoms? How can you be certain you're getting the smooth skin variety? At the very least, everyone who considers eating or serving this fish should make sure that all involved fully understand what they're getting into.

  13. It looks like a wonderful meaty fish. I should be ashamed to admit it, but This is the first I've heard of the fish. Now I'll have to keep my eyes open for it at the market. I hope you have a great day. Blessings…Mary

  14. Your fish looks delicious. I've heard the same stories about this fish and some years back when I was catering a client requested this and I was too unnerved by the stories to serve this at her dinner party!

  15. Well, how're you feeling this morning? 😉

    I've never tried this fish, but its flesh looks as white and creamy as Halibut. So, whatever the name (and judging by the mouthwatering photos), I'd simply call it, delicious!

  16. okay so the fish itself is not pretty, but the filet you bought and the end dish is lovely… I love the meatiness of it! Nice to have found your blog!

  17. Eating Escolar is Russian roulette. Few restaurants will be able to tell you if it is rough or smooth skinned. Even if they think they know, they may have been duped. If you eat the bad kind, you WILL have significant GI pain and you WILL have bright orange oil leaving your body through your posterior beginning anywhere from half an hour to a day and a half later, and you will not often have full control over when it leaves.

    With all the dozens of delicious white fish you could buy instead, you have to question why you'd take the chance.

    Worst part of the Escolar problem is that so many dishonest restaurants and fish sellers purposely mis-label this fish for the mark-up.

    According to the Orlando Sentinel, last year, 186 restaurants in the state were cited by the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation for mislabeling their fish. A Nova Southeastern University genetics class this year tested fish advertised as white tuna from 10 sushi restaurants in Broward, Miami Dade and Palm Beach counties of Florida. The results showed eight were improperly labeled. A similar study last fall involving 10 restaurants in South Florida and Orlando showed all 10 served escolar that was sold as white tuna.

    So, buyer beware, no matter what they tell you it is.

Comments are closed.