Would you happily try mahi-mahi, but draw the line at dolphinfish? How about giving dorado a go? Well, here's a secret: they're all one and the same fish.
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Sous Vide Mahi Mahi with Jalapeno-Lime Butter
Photo by France C

Juliet Capulet famously asked: "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." Although she had a point, when it comes to fish, you'd be surprised what a new name can do. For certain denizens of the sea, shedding an unfortunate moniker is the most important part of a glamorous new makeover. And when a new alias catches on with consumers, it's like pulling pure gold from the sea.

You may recall two incredible re-branding success stories of the sea. The lowly slimehead was, no surprise, a marketing disaster. But re-branded as "orange roughy," this fish was quickly discovered by the masses—and found to be quite delicious. White, mild, and moist, with large flakes, orange roughy became so popular, it was soon endangered. Or consider the slow-selling Patagonian toothfish's fate. Renamed Chilean sea bass (although not a bass at all), it rocketed to success and was promptly overfished to the point of non-sustainability.

Let's take a look at a few of the more recent "a.k.a."s of the sea. Seek out these aliases at your local supermarket.

Gizzard Fish/Mud Shad/Lake Whitefish

Found in fresh and brackish water across the U.S., this fish was named for its most novel trait: the possession of a gizzard. In the simplest of terms, this organ is an internal, naturally occurring sack filled with rocks or sand that helps an animal digest its food better. It's an anomaly more commonly associated with birds and dinosaurs, which is what made its presence remarkable enough to define the species. But that doesn't exactly sound appetizing, and neither did "mud shad." Find this sustainable fish under the much-improved moniker of Lake Whitefish from the Great Lakes to do your part in eating green and combating a bum name.

Pompano Dolphin/Dolphinfish/Dorado/Mahi-Mahi

In much the same way people initially confused coronavirus as having something to do with the beer, consumers also confused dolphinfish as being some kind of variant of our beloved bottlenosed friends. (They're not.) To combat that, the name was changed to the more exotic-sounding Mahi-Mahi, from the Hawaiian language, and the more palatable but debonair-sounding Dorado. Nowadays, hardly anyone remembers a time when it was called any variant of dolphin at all--mission accomplished!

A fillet of fish with a ginger-soy glaze on a plate with white rice, an orange slice, and a parsley garnish
Ginger Glazed Mahi Mahi | Photo by jling
| Credit: Photo by jling

Recipes to Try:

Blackfish/Tautog

Even with the valiant Brynden Tully bearing this nickname in Game of Thrones, "blackfish" just doesn't sound that tantalizing. It's a fighting fish with "teeth [that] can reduce a crab to shrapnel in seconds," giving an idea of toughness of spirit … and of flesh. But actually, this firm wrasse fish, ideal for chowder, is actually among the tastiest, taking on the flavor of the shellfish and crustaceans that make up its diet. Try it as Tautog and see if it tastes a little bit more delicate now.

Recipe to Try:

Scup/Sheepshead/Porgy/Sea Bream/Silver Snapper

Scup is kind of a cute name, which can be fitting for a fish that only averages about a pound. Perhaps too cute to eat? While on the opposite spectrum, Sheepshead--a reference to Long Island's Sheepshead Bay, where they are often found--sounds distinctly unattractive. The common label of "porgy" falls somewhere between the two, but sea bream and silver snapper sound distinctly more elegant, and it's more than likely that you'll see on a restaurant menu instead of its other identities.

Goosefish/Monkfish

Neither of these are particularly mouthwatering handles, but to be honest, neither is the mien of this large, notorious fish. They were traditionally trash fish due to the percentage of unusable flesh, as only the tail part is edible. However, as fishers experimented with this non-flaking fish and realized its similarity to the most luxurious crustacean on today's tables, lobster, the "goosefish" was reintroduced as "monkfish," and fine dining restaurants enthusiastically embraced the poor man's lobster under its new identity.

Monkfish Provincial
Monkfish Provincial | Photo by CaliAngel

Recipes to Try:

Alaska Pollock/Bigeye Cod/Snow Cod

Commonly cut into sticks and patties under a layer of breading or transformed into surimi by large seafood manufacturers, Alaska pollock has earned itself a reputation as a cheap commercial fish. But due to its ubiquity throughout the North Pacific, it's actually one of the most popular menu items around the world, sold as generic whitefish … and now also as Bigeye and Snow cod. This mild, delicate-tasting fish actually has a bit more flavor than the less oily true cod and haddock it traditionally passes for, making it a prime, sustainable swap under its fancier, newer names.

Recipes to Try:

Snot Fish/Snotgall/Snotty Trevally/Yellow Spotted Trevally/Blue Warehou

Another fish named for its prodigious mucus production, this medusafish is easy to track due to the excretion of fibrous orange and brown clumps. Yummy, right? Except the fish itself is yummy! The fillets are thick with medium to low oil content, and are meant to be cooked with care to avoid toughening. Find trevally on tables in the Indo-Pacific region, including Australia and New Zealand.

Hogfish/Hog Snapper/Red Snapper

The hogfish/red snapper story is less about renaming than irresponsible marketing. Simply search the term "red snapper" online and you'll find plentiful evidence of the intentional mislabeling of this desirable fish. Along with cod and bass, red snapper is one of the three most carelessly slung names in the marketplace. Hogfish, named after how they use their pointed snouts to dig up crustaceans and mollusks from the sea floor, is actually a type of wrasse. It's an excellent substitute for what's known as "red snapper" in the South Atlantic and Caribbean. It actually holds more moisture in cooking than a true American red snapper, and comes out sweet and silky.

Mediterranean Red Snapper
Mediterranean Red Snapper | Photo by Kim's Cooking Now

Recipes to Try:

Mud Shark/Dogfish/Huss Salmon/Rock Salmon

Neither dog nor shark, this sustainable fish earned the names mud shark and dogfish because it feeds in packs off the coast of New England. Ninety-nine percent of this catch is shipped off to Europe, including old England, where it carries the more palatable name of Huss or Rock Salmon and is served with even more palatable chips.

Recipe to Try:

Grunt/Mangrove Snapper/Gray Snapper

Called grunt for the sound their air bladders make when they grind their teeth, these little bottom-dwellers are often bycatch for fishers angling for grouper and triggerfish. Mild, white, and flaky, they do just fine in their native Florida marketed as grunts. In other regions, the fish is mistakenly re-categorized as a snapper, despite having a fixed lower jawbone that separates it from that type of fish.

Recipe to Try:

Pacific Greenling/Buffalo Cod/Cultus Cod/Lingcod

A blue-green tint to the raw meat is perhaps what led to this fish originally being called greenling. But why it's now called lingcod is anyone's guess. It's neither a cod nor a ling, with a stronger taste than cod and far more sustainable than ling, which is caught via trawl fishing. Its other names, Buffalo and Cultus Cod, are lesser known.

Pan-Seared and Crusted Ling Cod
Pan-Seared and Crusted Ling Cod | Photo by Allrecipes Magazine

Recipe to Try:

Asian Carp/Silverfin/Kentucky Tuna

Typically, when one thinks of Asian carps, what comes to mind are the decorative koi fish that wriggle, fat and bright, through garden ponds. No one wants to eat a pet fish. The Asian carp is, in fact, related to koi and goldfish. But the flesh of this invasive species is "bright white, clean, high in protein, low in fat, and mild in taste"...and far more palatable under its newer names: silverfin and Kentucky tuna.

Recipe to Try:

Squid/Calamari

Squid calls to mind rubbery tubes filled with dark ink, or bait cuttings sacrificed for a better catch. Calamari, on the other hand, conjures up images of light, battered rings served up golden with lemon wedges and tomato sauce—and that's no coincidence. This renaming was actually an intentional effort by the Cornell Cooperative Extension Division, Long Island Fisheries Assistance Program, Empire State Development Program, and the Economic Development Administration of the Federal Commerce Department. It happened in the 1970s and '80s, when Long Island fishermen were pushed to sell squid to make up for a depletion in their usual flounder and cod hauls. The CCED urged them to do it under squid's Italian name, and restaurant owners, skeptical as they were, decided to give it a shot, frying and serving it as an appetizer so that people could have it as a try-size portion. The rest is now history.

Calamari Marinara
Calimari Marinara | Photo by Chef John
| Credit: Chef John

Recipes to Try:

Mudbugs/Crawdad/Crayfish/Crawfish

Now one of the most respected, beloved, and famous seafood items from New Orleans, these little mini lobsters used to be considered "poor man's food," all the way up into the 1960s. But my, have times changed for these crustaceans, which are neither insects nor fish! Today, they grace the tables of many a fine restaurant in the South, and crawfish boils are making their ways up north. Modern nomenclature depends on geography. "Crayfish" is used more in the north, "crawdad" in the midwest, and "crawfish" in the south. "Mudbug" is used with tongue in cheek

Recipes to Try:

Sand Crabs/Atlantic Rock Crab/Peekytoe Crabs

These lobster bycatches have gone from throwaway trash to sought-after prizes for fine dining restaurants. Rod Mitchell, the owner of Browne Trading Company in Portland, Maine, gave sand crabs the new and catchy name "peekytoe crabs"—a reference to the "picked" (slang for "pointed;" pronounced as "picket") distinctively inward-pointing sharp point on the leg. Available only to chefs due to their fragility and inability to be shipped alive, their cutesier name is far more fitting than just plain old "sand crab."

Whore's Egg/Sea Urchin/Uni

This jewels of the sea earned their profane original name from the nuisance they created for lobstermen off the coast of Maine, as they greedily grabbed lobster bait from their traps. However, with the increasing popularity of sushi, these creatures became a delicacy rather than an annoyance. The part gourmets love to eat, colloquially called their roe, is actually their gonads.

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