Only the name has changed. The ingredients remain the same: wild freshwater crawfish, mayonnaise, celery, salt and sugar.
For at least 15 years, Zabar’s, the Upper West Side grocery with the big crowds and even bigger prices, sold that as lobster salad–thousands and thousands of pounds of it, by itself in a plastic tub or on a bagel or a roll. Apparently no one noticed.
Then Doug MacCash, a reporter from The Times-Picayune of New Orleans, stopped at Zabar’s while vacationing in Manhattan last month.
“Lobster salad on a bagel: Why not?” he wrote on Aug. 1 on the newspaper’s Web site. “It was delicious, but the pink/orange tails seemed somehow familiar.”
He checked the label. “Wild fresh water crayfish?” he wrote. “Really? At $16.95 per pound?” He photographed the label, just to be sure.
Mr. MacCash had discovered a fact of New York culinary life that New Yorkers had not: There was no lobster in the lobster salad at Zabar’s.
But if others were troubled by what seemed like a case of misrepresentation, Saul Zabar, the 83-year-old president and co-owner of Zabar’s, was not.
Selling lobsterless lobster salad, he insisted, was not dishonest.
“If you go to Wikipedia,” he said, “you will find that crawfish in many parts of the country is referred to as lobster.”
He read aloud the beginning of the Wikipedia entry for crawfish: “Crayfish, crawfish, or crawdads–members of the superfamilies Astacoidea and Parastacoidea–are freshwater crustaceans resembling small lobsters, to which they are related.”
By that definition, he said, he could call a product in which the main ingredient–actually, the only seafood ingredient–was crawfish, “lobster salad.”
But amid the contretemps about crustaceans, Mr. Zabar said, he never considered replacing the crawfish with actual lobster. “Maine lobster is much chewier,” he said. “This is a nicer texture. It has a very nice flavor. If we used Maine lobster meat, it would be much more expensive.”