Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

emperors the puzzling name given to the various species of fish in the family Lethrinidae, which are distinguished by features, such as elongated scaleless snouts and cheeks, of which none seems to be imperial in character. In general, they resemble the grunts. Apart from one on the W. African coast, the score or so of species all belong to the Indo-Pacific. Some of them bear the name capitaine in islands of the Indian Ocean.

Species which grow to a fair size and are of some commercial interest include:

  • Lethrinus chrysostomus, called trumpet emperor or sweetlip emperor by some, well known on the northern coasts of Australia and a valuable food fish. Maximum length 90 cm (35"). The coloration is striking, especially the blood-red patch around the eyes.

  • L. nebulosus, the spangled emperor, sometimes called mata hari, ranging from E. Africa and the Red Sea to the W. Pacific islands, attractively coloured (each scale picked out with a pale blue spot, and three light blue bands radiating from the eyes). To 75 cm (30"). Capitaine rouge in the Indian Ocean. The flesh is slightly pinkish and is appreciated by the Japanese.

  • L. miniatus, the long-nosed emperor (or, again, mata hari), to 90 cm (35"), another good fish.

  • Gymnocranius griseus, pleasingly called the ginkgo fish (but grey bare-nose in S. Africa). To 50 cm (20"), silvery-brown with three violet-blue bars on the head. Capitaine blanc in the Indian Ocean.