A couple times each week, standing under my tent selling smoked salmon and bluefish, someone asks if I sell smoked whitefish salad. When I say no, they walk away, disappointed. When I’ve talked to would-be customers about the dish they usually describe a tasty whitefish salad that a relative used to make.
Type of Fish in Whitefish Salad
When I first heard about whitefish salad I assumed that the fish was cod; but the stories don’t just come from New Englanders. Often they’re from the Great Lakes region or somewhere else in the Midwest. So I looked up some recipes. Most of them call for a variety of herbs, usually parsley and dill, some celery, a creamy base like mayonnaise or sour cream, and most importantly, smoked whitefish. However, none of the recipes include the specific type of fish. According to Wikipedia and the geographic locations of these stories, whitefish could be cod, hake, pollock, or haddock; all white, flaky, and from the Atlantic. It could also be salmon, trout, char, perch, or even catfish from a lake. For all anyone knows, whitefish could be bluefish, like the one in our smoked bluefish pâté (which would make the refusal of a sample ridiculous). You can’t really tell what species you’re eating if you don’t see the whole fish, or even the fillet, before it’s smoked and mixed with the other ingredients.
So why does it matter what whitefish is? Personally, I like to know what I’m eating, where it comes from, and the impact it has so that I can make informed decisions about what I consume. And transparency in food systems, especially seafood systems that suffer from rampant overfishing and seafood fraud, is essential to sustainability and accountability.
But could not knowing or caring what whitefish really is be a good thing? In a way, I think the answer may be yes. The cod fishery in New England is all but dead, with a few fishermen clinging to the memory of cod’s glory days while losing part of their livelihood. But for whitefish salad, cod’s disappearance shouldn’t really matter. There are other options, ones that are abundant in the Gulf of Maine or off Cape Cod and can be conserved given proper management. And if people don’t have a strong preference among all the whitefish options, doesn’t it also show that fishermen too have other, perhaps more sustainable options?