The Unpredictability of Fish Quality

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About

The quality of many fish and shellfish can vary drastically from season to season. This is because they live out life cycles that typically include one phase during which they grow and mature, accumulating energy reserves and reaching their peak of culinary quality, and a subsequent phase during which they expend those reserves to migrate and create masses of eggs or sperm for the next generation. And most fish don’t store their reserves in layers of fat, as land animals do. Instead they use the proteins of their muscle mass as their energy pack. During migrations and spawning, they accumulate protein-digesting enzymes in their muscle and literally transform their own flesh into the next generation. Then and afterward, their muscle is meager and spent, and makes a spongy, mushy dish.