We Are All Fish

Sort of. But we have recipes for the kinds you’re looking for.

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By Melissa Clark

I just found out that there’s no such thing as fish.

I mean, for cooks there is — we still have salmon, anchovies, swordfish, trout and the like, all waiting to be tossed in a pan with garlic and oil, or threaded on skewers and grilled, or pan-fried with capers and herbs. But as a taxonomic category, fish isn’t a thing, as Lulu Miller explains in the terrific book “Why Fish Don’t Exist.” And if you were to gather all the descendants of the first fish and call them “fish,” you’d have to include the whole subphylum vertebrata — that is, all animals with backbones, like humans. In that school of thought, we are all fish.

In part, Miller’s book is about the often very narrow ways in which humans try to impose order on the natural world, and how some things that we take for granted aren’t necessarily what they seem to be.

But let’s face it: The term “fish” comes in handy when you’re figuring out what to make for dinner. Search on New York Times Cooking, and you’ll find more than 1,800 recipes. Here are dozens of our best. Among them: a crowd-pleasing maple-baked salmon that’s supremely easy to make; a tangy, Caribbean-inspired snapper escovitch (above) with chiles and spices; excellent fish tacos. And if you prefer shellfish, we’ve got Eric Kim’s savory shrimp stew for two with broccoli rabe and gochugaru, and a very classic Manhattan clam chowder.

The kitchen offers other taxonomic challenges. Cooks (and eaters) think of tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants, squash and peppers as vegetables, but to botanists, they are fruit. And rhubarb, the stalk of a leafy plant snuggled up next to those strawberries in so many pies, is technically a vegetable.

It all makes my head spin, in a good way, and makes me want to run to the stove and whip up a pan of Yotam Ottolenghi’s butternut squash lasagna pie, Yewande Komolofe’s warming lentil and orzo stew with roasted eggplant or Alexa Weibel’s piquant gingery tomato and cucumber salad. Then for dessert, perhaps some velvety pumpkin cheesecake?

To access these recipes, along with thousands more, you’ll need a subscription. Subscriptions support our work and keep the recipes flowing every single week. We’re also on Instagram, YouTube and TikTok, where you can watch our own Vaughn Vreeland try every dessert from the bake sale at The New York Times Food Festival last weekend. Even better, you can make the butter mochi he devoured very easily at home. A brilliant recipe from Genevieve Ko, it’s tangy, buttery, chewy and one of my absolute favorites.

Speaking of sweets and things that aren’t fish, it was my daughter’s 14th birthday on the same day as the food festival, so I got up early that morning to bake cupcakes before running to moderate a fantastic mole-making demo with Rick Martínez. For the cake, I needed something quick, easy and very tasty, so I went with this delightful milk and honey cake, baked into cupcakes: Half of the recipe makes 12 cupcakes, which I slathered with cream cheese frosting.

Sweet cakes can be fish, too, as I learned years ago during a trip to Tokyo. There, street vendors will serve you taiyaki, a tasty fish-shaped cake filled with anko, or red bean paste. In Korean they’re called bungeoppang, and you can stuff them with other things. OK, so they’re not really fish. But they are really delicious. And they definitely exist.

Sam’s back on Friday. I’ll see you Monday.

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