Lobster Salad, But a Key Ingredient Was Missing

James Barron, New York Times, August 11, 2011

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.

{snip}

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.”

{snip}

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.”

{snip}

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  • A.G.

    Oh, the humanity!

    Just wait until those who notice the difference try to have a conference to discuss those differences. Protests! Emotional manipulations from public officials! Hotels will refuse to host such gatherings because everyone knows that those who dare speak the name “crawfish” are just not very nice people at all…

    The Emperor Isn’t Eating Lobster!

  • Anonymous

    If it is not lobster, it is not lobster salad. I would never refer to a manatee as an elephant! It is deception and Saul Zabar can spin it anyway he likes but at the end of the day, he is not being up front with his customers. The American marketplace is full of dishonest merchants who peddle inferior products and services as a never-ending supply of American consumers salivate at their windows.

  • New to AR

    Can someone please explain the relevance or significance of this article to me? I am a relatively recent visitor to AR (only the last few months) and I must be missing something big on this one. Or maybe it is because I don’t eat seafood and get it? Help me out

  • Anonymous

    And why would the “much nicer” crayfish be cheaper? I’ll take the “chewy” Main Lobster any day.

  • Anonymous

    A few years ago,I tried out this recipe for Navajo Fry Bread. Good stuff, as it turns out, and if you cut it into small squares after you roll it out and before dropping it into the hot grease, it makes a very good snack. Roll them in sugar, roll them in salt and chili powder, or try your own variation. I came up with several varieties that I thought were pretty good. And it’s cheap and fun. For about 5 dollars, you can feed a whole bunch of folks, and there’s plenty of room for experimenting.

    So my would-be gourmet girlfriend was over once and I offered her some. When she found out it was Navajo Fry Bread, slightly decorated, she wouldn’t touch the things.

    Next trip, I was careful to refer to them as “genuine, New Orleans style beignettes” and she ate them like Godiva chocolate. The power of advertising is truly frightening.

  • RegvlvsSeradly

    “Can someone please explain the relevance or significance of this article to me? I am a relatively recent visitor to AR (only the last few months) and I must be missing something big on this one. Or maybe it is because I don’t eat seafood and get it? Help me out”

    “Crawfish” (and worse, “Crawdads”) are creature used in dishes enjoyed by (and thus associated with) those in middle America. Rich NY liberals cannot, of course, bear to have any commonality with such folks, so to sell a crawfish salad to them it must be re-marketed.

    And thus, to post 2, is why this man is dishonest to the customers; they want, in this instance, to be lied to.

  • Anonymous

    #3, Its a metaphor. Think about not all crustaceans are created equal. While the crustaceans have equal ability to be in a salad, folks prefer lobster instead of crayfish. There is a discernible difference. Nothing evil here in being discriminatory, its a matter of personal taste.

  • Anonymous

    Wasn’t there a big scandal more than a decade ago at some pricey NY restaurant which served regular meat and calling it veal?

  • ProudtobeWhite

    #6: Does that make rich NY liberals “upper crust-aceans”?

    (rimshot)