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Friday, March 10, 2017

Chilean Sea Bass—It’s All About Marketing

                                         The Patagonian Toothfish is a cold water Cod

I leave in a few days for Chile.  One of my favorite foodie stories about this country has to do with Chilean Seabass.   Many of us enjoy the buttery flavor and unctuous texture of this fish.  I wonder, however, how many know that its true name is not even close?

Have you ever heard of the Patagonian Toothfish?  How appetizing does this sound? Would you be tempted to order a Toothfish of any type?  Chilean Seabass is a fantasy name created in the 1970’s as a marketing ploy to get Americans to purchase the Patagonian Toothfish.  And, it was an American fish importer who dreamed up the new name.  He was debating between two possibilities to entice the American consumer:   “Pacific Seabass” and “South American Seabass,” but in the end chose Chilean Seabass as he thought the specificity might be more attractive to consumers.  The rest is history.

You may also be surprised to learn that Chilean Seabass is not a member of the bass family, but is part of the icefish cod family.   This cod group is only found in very cold waters, including the deep part of the Artic.  (In fact, most of the Chilean Seabass brought into the US now is not Chilean, but from the Artic).  A few more surprises:  Did you know that this fish can live up to 50 years of age?  How about that it can grow up to >200 pounds?  Or, 7 feet in length?

What you do know about Chilean Seabass is that it’s not the kind of fish that would be served at a fish and chips kind of place, at least today.  Instead, it’s more likely to be served at a restaurant featuring the likes of lobster risotto or a luscious kobe beef.  That being said, in the 1980’s it was used by restaurants that could no longer afford halibut for its fried fish sticks.  Over the course of some 30 years, this fish has moved from Chinese restaurants looking for cheaper fish, to la crème de la crème dining establishments.  It really moved from total obscurity to Bon Appetit’s dish of the year in 2001.  

Chilean Seabass worked its way up the food chain due to a brilliant branding and marketing campaign.  Let’s raise a glass to the forgotten Patagonian Toothfish, and to the power of a name. 

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