We've all heard it: "Never order fish on Mondays." This is one of those cardinal rules by which most diners abide - along with, "Never order the daily special" (it's just a way to sell old food) - but is it true, or just an old wives' tale?
Another old adage works here: Location, location, location. If you're in a coastal city, where fresh fish is purchased daily, you should be good all-year-round. For those of us in the Heartland, though, things are a little trickier.
See, it's all about freshness. Most restaurants place an order on Thursday, for delivery on Friday morning, of their weekend stock. The next regular order won't come in until Monday afternoon at the earliest - meaning the fish that came in the door Friday morning is (supposedly) still there Monday evening.
Most advocates of the no-fish-on-Monday rule point to celebrity chef, author and TV personality Anthony Bourdain, whose breakthrough 2000 memoir Kitchen Confidential contained this passage:
Here's how it works: The chef of this fine restaurant orders his fish on Thursday for delivery Friday morning. He's ordering a pretty good amount of it, too, as he's not getting another delivery until Monday Morning. All right, some seafood purveyors make Saturday deliveries, but the market is closed Friday night. It's the same fish from Thursday!
Times, however, change. In 2010's Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook, Bourdain softened some on his previous claim:
I wrote those immortal words about not going for the Monday fish, the ones that'll haunt me long after I'm crumbs in a can, knowing nothing other than New York City. And times, to be fair, have changed. Okay, I would still advise against the fish special at T.G.I. McSweenigan's, 'A Place for Beer', on a Monday. Fresh fish, I'd guess, is probably not the main thrust of their business. But things are different now for chefs and cooks. The odds are better than ever that the guy slinging fish and chips back there in the kitchen actually gives a shit about what he's doing. And if he doesn't, these days he has to figure that you might actually know the difference.
So, skip the big-chain, do-it-all diners and stick to seafood spots - and chefs you trust - and Monday fish should be fine. After all, times have changed and many restaurants today do take delivery on Mondays, meaning everything in-store is fresh as can be.
But what about Sunday? Good point.
Eddie Huang (chef/owner of the Lower East Side restaurant BaoHaus, author, blogger and creator of television's Fresh Off the Boat, inspired by his autobiography), had this to say:
You know for sure that there's no fresh fish on Sunday except if it's bought fresh from Chinatown, but even they don't get it really fresh on Sundays.
There you have it: skip the seafood on Sundays. Huang, like Bourdain, is speaking specifically about New York City, but if you can't get fresh fish in the Big Apple - its Fulton Street Fish Market is the second-largest in the world, handling millions of pounds of seafood each day - then odds aren't good it's the daily catch landing on your plate in the Heartland.
So what are the best days to order seafood? Tuesdays and Fridays, according to industry insiders - when the stock is freshest and any kinks in the recipes are worked out.
And what about that old "daily special" warning? While some seedier spots may use this as a way to move aging stock and cut food costs, any reputable restaurant and any chef worth his salt wouldn't dream of it.
Instead, the daily special is often a way to test out possible new menu items, utilize extra (but not old) or unusual ingredients, or, most often, to give chefs a chance to show off their skills with something new.