Tuesday, January 31, 2012

FISH OF BRAZIL - Tucunaré (Peacock Bass)

You can call the tucunaré, a Brazilian fish native to the fresh waters of the Amazon basin, a peacock bass if you wish, but according to Wikipedia, although the fish IS known in English as the peacock bass, it isn't a bass at all, rather it's a chiclid. Since the first humans to baptize the fish and give it a name were the native indian tribes of the Amazon, the fish's original name is clearly tucunaré, which means "friend of the trees" in Tupi-Guarani. Only at some later date was the fish given a name in English, and then it was given the wrong one, though admittedly the name peacock bass has a nicer ring to it than peacock chiclid, which sounds more like the name for a baby peacock.

Looking at a photo of a tucunaré it's easy to see where the peacock part of the English name comes from. It's not from the color, for the fish isn't blue or green. It's from a large eye-like circle on the tail of the fish which looks rather like the similar forms on a peacock tail.

In Brazil, the tucunaré is known in both the culinary and sports-fishing worlds. The fish is a predatory carnivorous hunter in its native waters, and a fierce fighter when caught on a hook. Sports fisherman travel miles up the tributaries of the Amazon to reach tucunaré fishing grounds, and there are luxurious fishing lodges in some remote backwaters of the region catering to wealthy fishing enthusiasts from all around the world. (Click here for one lodge's website).

Because of their value as a sport-fishing species, tucunaré have been introduced into other tropical waters in Brazil, in the Caribbean and in Florida. Because, they don't have their own predators in these new waters, however, and because of their agressive behavior, the introduction of tucunaré has sometimes resulted in the decimation of local species. And once they've killed off all the native species in new waters, tucunaré have been known to resort to cannibalism, reducing their own stock levels precipitiously.

Fortunately, tucunaré, fierce though they are, are not large enough to dine on humans, and in the human-tucunaré relationship, it's humans who are the predators. Tucunaré are very good eating fish, with firm white flesh and without many bones. They have been an important food source for millennia in the Amazon, and today are served not only in the simple riverside homes of native populations, but in sophisticated restaurants in the large cities of the rain forest, like Manaus or Belém, and further afield in places like Rio de Janeiro or Brasília. The flavor of  has been likened to that of grouper or snapper, and because  grows to somewhere between 1-3 feet (30 - 100 cm) in length, it can be cooked in any way suitable to either of those species.

In upcoming posts, Flavors of Brazil will feature recipes for tucunaré.


  1. Tucunaré is one of my favorite fish, alongside mullet (known in Brazil as tainha).

  2. The fish of Brazil is looking so beautiful specially its natural Golden color. I really like sea animals and creatures and love to read about them.

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