“Peel Here,” a visual essay, and welcome The Saucy Fish Co.

Two words that strike dread and loathing into my heart:

PEEL HERE

Witness “Sugar in the Raw”‘s PEEL HERE – the way they want us to get to the sugar:

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And this is how we eventually get to the sugar:

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And don’t get me started on “peel here” for Mucinex tablets sealed in foil, Band-Aids, and backs of some blister packs.

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The Saucy Fish Co. story

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According to a Chicago-based public relations firm working for the U.K.-based food company, the Saucy Fish Co., Americans eat about 15 lbs. of fresh or frozen fish per person per year – two thirds of that in restaurants. That means the average American east 5 lbs. of fish at home every year, or about 6 ounces a month. (Various U.S. government agencies agree – pegging fish consumption at 14.5 lbs. per person).

So to be clear, this is fresh and frozen fish – not tuna and sardines and salmon and other things squished into a can or a bag, and it doesn’t include lobsters or shrimp or clams. Just fish fish.

6 ounces doesn’t even make a serving – 12 ounces is more like it, at least for me. That means Americans, on average, have fish once every two months. Why? What’s their problem? According to the PR firm:

“It is evident that there is an intimidation of cooking fish at home for fear of overcooking it and not knowing how to season or flavor it.”

Enter The Saucy Fish Co. and their easy and tasty solutions:

“The Saucy Fish Co., currently one of the hottest brands in the U.K., is now available stateside at your local Hannaford store in the refrigerator aisle.  Basically, it’s sauce and fish without the fuss, and fantastic flavor without the hard labor. With offerings such as Tilapia with Mango and Chili sauce, Salmon with Sweet Soy and Ginger sauce and Cod with Sunblush Tomato Dressing  — it is a healthy, easy-to-make dinner. Even better, The Saucy Fish Co. is a member of the Sustainable Seafood Coalition. The fish is responsibly sourced so you can feel good about it while you eat!”

Free fish!!

All this came from Kate (not her real name) at the PR firm, who approached me by email early in January wondering if I’d like some free Saucy Fish Co. samples so that I might write an “editorial review.” Free fish?! You bet!! My wife and I eat fish every five or six days, more than ten times as often as the average American, and I figure by Maine standards we’re probably not unusual. And free fish has its own special unbeatable flavor.

And an ethical dilemma!!

Okay, free fish… Wait! I don’t do editorial reviews of products, food or otherwise! This would be my first, and I’m not sure the BDN would approve. So I should probably have asked the BDN gang ahead of time — is it okay for me to write about a branded product in exchange for free samples? Or is that a conflict? Or worse, is it just plain tacky? I mean, this is a U.K.-based fish company and they’re exporting fish from Europe to the Hannaford fish refrigerator in Maine, which knows a thing or two about fish, and if that’s not bringing coals to Newcastle, nothing is. This company is plucky. It’s got chutzpah. And yes, from the research I’ve done, they’re extremely socially responsible and sustainable, and a fun and witty crowd to boot (their ad copy is brash and frisky and even a little goofy here and there). But still, they’re exporting fish from the U.K. to Maine, and I keep wanting to slap my forehead over that.

But whatever my pangs of conscience, I have an obligation to Kate, who’s been more than nice in her emails to me, and I hinted in one correspondence to her, after the fish arrived and we ate it, that my “editorial review” would be mostly favorable.

So here goes: Kate shipped us four single vacuum-sealed packages – two of salmon, one of tilapia (pictured below), and one of cod (not pictured). Each package held within it a little plastic sack of a special sauce.

The salmons…

UK_766x358_Salmon_Chilli_Lime_Ginger copySalmon with chilli (sic), lime & ginger dressing… not pictured, salmon with sweet soy & chili (sic) dressing. The word “chile” is more accurate, but if you’re going to use both “chili” and “chilli” in the same product line, why is my brain screaming at me, “typo!”?  Tiny tiny peccadillo.

The net weight of the fish is just 10 ounces, so my wife and I figured we’d each have one as a tidy, compact little supper and then have some monstrous dessert (no, just kidding, no dessert). The back of the package says it contains two servings, but darned if 5 ounces of fish makes an entree. It doesn’t. Sorry. One Saucy Fish Co. package serves one person, and just barely. I could easily have eaten both salmon filets guilt-free.

We heated the little sauce packets in boiling water, as directed, cut the pouches open, then poured the sauces into tiny ramekins to serve with the fish, which we cooked for 20 minutes at 350, as directed.

The result?

Good salmon, very good sauces!

The salmon is farm-raised in either Scotland or Norway, and it was fine for something that’s been washed and vacuum-sealed and shipped across the ocean to Maine. But nobody beats Alaskan king salmon for knock-your-socks-off flavor, or even sockeye. So I’m still likely to buy a big slab of fresh salmon. The two sauces were very good, but my wife and I both added more heat to them.

The tilapia and cod…

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I warned Kate in an email I was no fan of tilapia, and after eating this one, I’m still not. The mango & chili dressing is a good start for it, but frankly I would have cooked up a steaming caldron of fiery-hot harissa sauce laced with Marsala and raw scotch bonnet peppers to give this pale-colored, bottom-feeding fresh water river fish a tiny bit of integrity and excitement. Tilapia comes from an African language word meaning, get this, “fish.” And I have no idea why it’s now so popular, except that it’s plentiful and harmless and relatively cheap. But ignore all of the above if you like tilapia.

The last free sample was “cod loin” with Sunblush® tomato dressing. That’s right, Sunblush® is the company’s registered trademark, and it’s a cool word, but frankly any kind of tomato-based sauce on fish, Sunblush® or not, strikes me as a little weird, and I didn’t go for it that much. The other issue is that cod tends to be a bit fibrous, like hake, and if it’s been washed and rinsed 38 times at sea and then flash-frozen, it’s not going to explode with flavor. I love salt cod in fish ‘n’ potatoes, and I like fresh cod that has a vibrant, rowdy sauce on it. In the end, I liked this sample a little better than the tilapia.

(fish package photos from Saucy Fish Co.’s website… )

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So, in sum, I really like this company and their heart and their wit and social conscience and appealing branding and bright colors and decent food, and Kate was wonderful to correspond with, and I wish all of them only the best success they can muster in a state that eats local fish the way Italians eat pasta.

I need to add, I won’t be soliciting or accepting free samples of anything from now on, snow blowers excepted, or doing product reviews because there is no way not to feel compromised. And BDN, if I’ve strayed across an ethical line, let me know and I’ll delete all the commercial references.

Thanks. There you have it.

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(If you’re into crossword puzzles, which I sometimes make up but don’t discuss here, you can read this Jan. 31 interview with me here in the L.A. Times’ crossword blog, L.A. Times Crossword Corner. It’s definitely my geekier side…)

Ned White

About Ned White

Ned White is a writer, novelist, crossword puzzle constructor, humorist, traveler through 49 states, and at times a danger in the kitchen. He lives with his wife in South Thomaston.