The Fishiest Myths About Seafood, Debunked by Chefs

No, mahi mahi is definitely not dolphin meat.

Seafood, in general, seems to be the victim of more reputation-damaging rumors than any other food. So in the spirit of busting, we talked to a handful of seafood-centric chefs, to help us debunk 16 prevalent myths about seafood that still seem to be swirling around the culinary zeitgeist. Read it. Learn it. And be the pompous jerk at your next seafood boil that loudly corrects everyone. 

mahi mahi
Shutterstock/Svetlana Foote

Myth: Mahi mahi is made of dolphin meat

“The common name of this fish is a dorado, or dolphinfish. I believe this is where the misunderstanding happens, and why people think it might be actual dolphin meat. (I blame the ones who named it ‘dolphinfish.’)”
Marc Dix, Food and Beverage Manager, Granville (Los Angeles, California)

“I wish you could see me rolling my eyes. Nobody is eating Flipper. Somehow along the way, the term ‘dolphinfish’ became easily substituted for 'dolphin' even though the fish are not related, nor do they even look similar. I feel like as educated as the general public has become on what is eaten, this would eventually become of less importance… but I guess not.”
Geoff Baumberger, Executive Chef, Ocean Prime (Beverly Hills, California)

“Can I answer this in one word? No. No. No.”
Vitaly Paley, Author, chef, and restaurateur (Portland, Oregon)

Myth: All fish contain dangerous levels of mercury

“This can be true, but mostly regarding bigger fish, as mercury-containing plants and tiny animals are eaten by smaller fish... that are then gobbled up by larger fish. So that tissue accumulates mercury. That’s why larger, longer-living predators such as sharks and swordfish tend to have more toxins than smaller fish such as sardines, sole, and trout.”
Michele Lisi, Chef, Nerano (Los Angeles, California)

“There might be a certain truth here, especially for some species containing mercury that could be potentially harmful. Those types in particular should be the ones that are eaten in moderation for those ‘at risk’ (pregnant, young, old). But studies have shown most doctors agree that the benefits of seafood consumption far outweigh any health risk posed by eating shellfish and seafood. It's a great source of protein and Omega 3 fatty acids which is great for overall personal health.”

Myth: Cooking fish is more difficult than cooking other types of meat

“I would say there’s some truth to this, a lot of fish tends to be more delicate than other cuts of meat. It's certainly less fatty than a steak, for example. And it's easier to mess up. If you have a beautifully marbled piece of steak and you overcook it, it will probably still be ok to eat. The same isn't true of a cut of halibut.”

“Fish is much more delicate than most other types of protein and it takes a little more love to create a beautiful end product. I wouldn't consider it more difficult to prepare though. Not all fish can be grilled, some are better pan seared, while others can be baked, broiled, roasted, or deep-fried. A one size fits all approach is not the best for most fish but that doesn't make it more difficult to cook.”

oysters with lemon
Shutterstock/ Lisovskaya Natalia

Myth: Oysters and other shellfish should only be eaten in months that end in “R”

“You can absolutely find quality shellfish all year round. Everything is very controlled and reliable these days with sustainable farming. As long you can depend on your farmer, you can depend on the shellfish, no matter what month it is.” 

“So that means we would only get to eat these four months out of the year? No way!”

Myth: Fresh fish is always better than frozen

“Wild-caught fish, by law, has to be frozen in order to kill parasites. There are many good reasons to buy frozen fish, including taste, convenience, and price. Since the fish is frozen at its peak of freshness, all of its flavor and nutrition, as well as its texture, is locked in. And as long as the fish is frozen properly, it doesn't matter if they are thick steaks, thick fillets, fatty fish, or a lean fish.”

“This is not necessarily the case, always. Some fish actually need to be frozen. In our restaurant, we use local Oregon Albacore Tuna that's frozen immediately after it's caught, for example. And I assure you it is delicious.”

Myth: Seafood and dairy should not be combined

“Don't believe the stigma. That’s an Italian thing and mostly about strong, competing flavors. There’s nothing more mouthwatering than California mussels in linguine smothered in a sauce of French white wine, butter, and mild Chilean Parmesan.”
Stephane Strouk, Owner, Monsieur Marcel Seafood Market (Los Angeles, California)

“Only if you’re Jewish or kosher. Aside from that, it doesn’t matter.” 
Jesus Nunez, Chef, Sea Fire Grill (New York, New York)

Myth: All seafood has a strong, “fishy” odor

“No, not all. If it has a strong fishy odor, don’t eat it because most likely it is not fresh. A tip for fish at home: Remove it from the packaging, wash it, pat it dry, and put it in the fridge until you’re going to use it to help keep freshness and keep away the fishy smell.” 
Lior Hillel, Executive Chef, Bacari (Los Angeles, California)

“You should never walk into a seafood restaurant and smell fish. But fish that swim faster, closer to the surface, tend to be ‘smellier’ and more oily than ones at a lower level. Think about herring, or mackerel. Lower-laying fish are more docile, their bodies are constructed differently, they won't have as strong of a smell.”

jumbo shrimp
Shutterstock/ symbiot

Myth: All “jumbo” shrimp are the same size

“Shrimp are actually sold in most places based on their size, in a number format that shows the average shrimp per pound. So shrimp that are listed as being a 16-20 count shrimp should be about one ounce per shrimp, or 16 to a pound. The term ‘jumbo’ is relative to the company, or person attaching that adjective to their particular shrimp. Your ‘jumbo’ might be a little different than my ‘jumbo.’ Stick to those number counts, if possible, to get a better gauge on how large the shrimp might actually be.”

“Not true, that’s like saying all basketball players are the same size.” 

Myth: Eating seafood during (or immediately after) monsoons is bad for your health

“Monsoon season generally means breeding season for the fish, so many fish during monsoon season might contain eggs, and some eggs are not so healthy for humans. Also, just to increase the longevity, many fish are preserved and sprayed with various harmful components. For this reason the freshness is depleted. So it might be better to avoid eating fish during this time.”

Myth: The bigger the oyster, the better the oyster

Olympia oysters can be the size of your pinkie, and they are some of the most delicious, sought-after, and expensive oysters in America. In face, the opposite might be true here: The bigger the oyster, the cheaper it will be, generally.”

“Kind of like saying the bigger the cow, the better it should taste! Oysters are an amazing little thing. So many variations exist from size, shape and weight of shell, areas grown in different waters, or the process of cultivation and farming. All factors that add to flavor, texture, and pricing of an oyster. Some of the best oysters in the world might be tiny little guys or huge monster-sized behemoths. It all depends on personal preference. Find a favorite and branch out from there. Just remember that freshness and quality will go hand in hand with the price.” 

Myth: Oysters should only be paired with champagne, or sparkling wine

“That’s certainly the classic combination. But with my oysters, I like vodka, beer, tequila, and even some nice, smokey Scotch. Champagne is definitely not the only combo that works.”

“What you want is a crisp, clean-finishing wine or mild lager or ale that doesn’t get in the way of the taste of the sea. The bone-dry whites like Sauvignon Blancs, Pinot Gris, and Chardonnays work best.”

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Myth: Oysters are aphrodisiacs 

“Having been a presenter of the IACP workshop ‘Mood, Food and Sex,’ I did quite a bit of research on aphrodisiacs. I explored the history of foods along with their symbolism, masculine and feminine qualities, aroma, and effect on the body. The common thread that they all share is their nutritional value, antioxidants, or ability to increase blood flow—all good things for a healthy libido. As for oysters specifically, just reading Casanova’s memoirs of oysters in Secrets of Venus is certainly enough evidence to validate their potency!”  
Glenda Galvan-Garcia, Executive Chef, Granville (Los Angeles, California)

"Absolutely a Casanova myth. But we like to tell our customers it’s a myth only because other bivalve mollusks should be included in that assertion, too... like mussels, scallops, and clams (so they eat more of them, right?).”
Christophe Breat, Executive Chef, Monsieur Marcel Gourmet Restaurant (Los Angeles) 

Myth: Shrimp is bad for cholesterol

“Shrimp is actually not very high in calories, falling in the same range as chicken breast. Though they're considered high in cholesterol when measured in the traditional sense. Though, shrimp is low in saturated fat which is where the health portion of cholesterol matters to ones body. Cooking method (broiled, baked, fried, cocktail) and amount eaten should always be considered. Moderation is key.”

“They are, in fact, high in cholesterol, but there’s much discussion as to whether or not shrimp impacts good or bad cholesterol because it is fat-free.”

“I sure hope not... I‘d eat them anyway’.”

Myth: You need to defrost shrimp overnight

“It depends. You can simply put them with some water and let them defrost that way, too. It’s convenient to put them in the fridge overnight and have them ready to use next day though.”

“You can defrost them easily, by running water over them for 15 to 30 minutes. But usually, you do want to defrost things slowly, mainly to avoid anything breaking or bursting.”

three lobster tails seafood dinner
Shutterstock/Brent Hofacker

Myth: Female lobsters taste better than male lobsters

“Actually, sex doesn’t really matter here, unless you’re a fan of roe... the female lobster’s unfertilized eggs. Females have a slightly wider tail than the mail lobster, but adult males have bigger claws. There's no difference amount of meat of a male lobster versus female lobster. And there is no taste difference.” 

“This might be related to the fact that female lobsters can contain roe, which can be really delicious. But as far as overall taste, they're the same.” 

Myth: Lobsters scream in pain when boiled

“Lobsters have no vocal chords. The sound you may hear is actually steam escaping from the shell as the lobster cooks. Lobsters have a ganglionic nervous system (as opposed to our central nervous system) and do not feel pain like we do. To kill a lobster humanely, I believe boiling or steaming is the quickest method.” — Lisi

“I’ll ask SpongeBob the next time I run into him.”

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Wil Fulton is a senior development producer at Thrillist and a passionate doer of other stuff. For more info, you’ll have to do a free background check.