What you see: Something black and soft embedded in your fillet
What it is: Most likely a bit of black skin or belly membrane that landed in the wrong spot during processing
Eat or toss: Cut it off and confidently eat the rest of the fish
We landlubbers picture tilapia as a nice, translucent shade of very light pink when raw and downright white once cooked. But, have you ever met a tilapia in the wild? Here’s a sketch of one, and you’ll see that its exterior isn’t white or pink, but instead looks a lot more, well, fish-like.
The black bit embedded in this fillet wasn’t stiff, so it couldn’t have been a scale, but it could have been a piece from the skin or belly membrane of a tilapia.
But, how could it have been so embedded in the fillet? Here’s what Brian Himelbloom, a seafood specialist at the Kodiak Seafood and Marine Science Center, says: “Fish is such a soft-textured product. If people are handling, turning, cutting, filleting, washing, trimming, it probably doesn’t take much effort to get something embedded in the process.”
Given that the black bit was soft, unlikely to be foreign matter, and was just in a small portion of the fish, Himelbloom, who specializes in seafood microbiology, safety and quality, says a neat trim is the way to go.
“I would probably remove the objectionable visible defect and cook accordingly without much worry,” he said.
Brian Himelbloom, College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences Kodiak Seafood and Marine Science Center. University of Alaska, Fairbanks.
United States Standards for Grading of Fish Fillets. USDC/NOAA. Seafood Inspection Program.