FishR I B S
Chefs offer a new take on a popular menu item.
By Melanie Wolkoff Wachsman
FAMILIAR, classic and economical,
ribs remain a staple comfort-food dish.
However, pork and beef ribs shouldn’t sit
too comfortably. Fish ribs have become
a new contender, specifically, pacu, a
Brazilian freshwater fish that grows to
between 60 and 80 pounds. The fish’s size
garners meaty ribs, making them perfect
for creating a healthier, vegetarian-friendly
version of barbecued spareribs.
Emilio Sosa, president of Sammy’s
Seafood, a fresh-seafood purveyor
based in St. Petersburg, Fla., says pacu
ribs resemble beef spareribs, but with a
pinkish/white-colored flesh and silver
iridescent skin. The ribs arrive in a 9-12
count, which can easily be fabricated into
sections. Sosa estimates the ribs cost
$8.95-$9.95 a pound.
Chris Pandel, chef of The Bristol in
Chicago, first heard about pacu ribs from
his seafood purveyor a year ago. What
intrigued him most was the ribs’ delicate,
sweet taste. “Pacu are herbivores. They are
related to piranha and have the same teeth,
but they use them to eat greens. So you get
this really mineraly, natural, grassy flavor
in a good way,” Pandel explains. “You don’t
get a lot of pushback in terms of texture. I
compare the taste to poached sole, with a
velvety, soft, almost creamy texture.”
At first, Pandel pan-roasted the ribs,
skin-side down. Not entirely satisfied
with the outcome, he continued
experimenting. He found his most
successful cooking method involves
brining the ribs in a light salt solution with
aromatics such as ginger, garlic, chilies
and olive juice, and then deep-frying
them. “We leave the skin on because it
gets crispy,” he says.
Truluck’s Seafood, Steak & Crab House
serves Brazilian pacu ribs with pickled
watermelon BBQ and fennel coleslaw.
Pandel serves the ribs escabéche-style.
Deep-fried ribs are tossed in a sweet-and-sour relish built with peppers, olive and
persimmon. He also prepares a Southeast
Asian version, where the ribs are coated in
a black fermented garlic barbecue sauce
and served with fried shallots and herbs.