Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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tautog Tautoga onitis, a fine fish of the wrasse family which belongs to the NW Atlantic and is most abundant between Cape Cod and Delaware Bay, although its range extends further north and south.

The common name is a version of the American Indian name tautauog. It appears also in French, where the fish is tautauge noir, referring to the dark coloration which also accounts for an alternative English name, black fish.

Although this fish has a maximum length of 1 m (40") its common length is up to half of that. It enjoys a healthy diet of clams, mussels, and small crustaceans, and has for long had a high reputation as a table fish. Making an interesting connection with the classical world, Davidson (1988b) remarked:

It is related that in the early nineteenth century a certain General Pinckney was so impressed by its merits that he imported a smack-load of tautog from Rhode Island and let them loose in the harbour of Charleston, South Carolina, where their descendants were still swimming about fifty years later. Whether true or not, it is an agreeable story, reminiscent of (indeed possibly inspired by, for the General may have been a classical scholar) the efforts which powerful Roman gourmets made to establish fish stocks, notably of other species of wrasse, where they wanted them.