Friday, December 4, 2009

The Night of the Whole Fish

We got home from L.A. on Monday afternoon. The new Portland Monthly magazine was waiting for us here, and in it a great writeup of the ABC Seafood Market. The name is pretty unappetizing - reminiscent of such childhood grossout games as "Already Been Chewed" Gum and offering a view of one's masticated mouth contents as "see-food" - but this is a really impressive fish market. As it's very near our place, we made a field trip to check it out on Tuesday, and decided to return on Wednesday to try the freshest fish for dinner.

So on Wednesday evening, we stopped by. Tanks crowded the little market, each one crammed with live fish frantically swimming to nowhere. Large pools overflowed with live crabs, underneath signs in Chinese and English: "Please ask for help in catching crabs, we not responsible if you bitten by the crabs." The prices were incredible - blue crabs for 99 cents a pound, Dungeness and King crabs for $2 or $3 per pound. For once I deeply regretted being Jewish and not having shellfish, but we decided on tilapia, at $4/pound that day. Keith selected a small one-pounder near the bottom of the tank, and a tiny young woman quickly and expertly caught that same one in a net. She tossed it into a bucket; it flapped wildly, and then she transferred it to the counter and killed it with a sharp loud blow. In less than two minutes she had scaled it and gutted it, and we were the proud owners of this small, bleeding, newly eviscerated fish.

We got it home and debated what to do with it. Grilling would've been nice, except the temperatures are dipping down into the twenties at night now and firing up the grill in such cold dark wasn't a pleasant thought. So I decided to broil it. I don't think my old worn-out oven got hot enough; I think I actually baked it. But anyway the plan we settled on was to stuff it with lemon slices, garlic, and fresh rosemary, and then sprinkle it with olive oil, lemon juice, and sel gris. All good in theory, until I oiled up a dish, opened the bag, and found myself confronted with this:

Um. Yeah.

Sidenote: When Keith and I first met, we worked together on a film set. At the end of the shoot, Keith and his boss took all the production assistants (including me) to a nice dinner at Automatic Slim's in downtown Memphis. I ordered a fish dish and found myself presented with the whole animal, eyes and all, and was unable to eat it until Keith covered its face with a lettuce leaf. I mean, I like meat and all, but I was a vegetarian for 12 years. I still can't deal with my food while it's looking at me like that.

So I covered this fish's face with a folded paper towel, and tried to proceed. But I couldn't get it open, and I wasn't sure if all its guts were out or not; it was REALLY bloody in there. So Keith gamely came in to take over. He got out a heavy wooden chopping block and a big knife, and began by moving the fish's mouth and voicing songs and pleas for mercy.

So once he was done playing with the food, Keith went ahead and stuffed it. He didn't need a paper towel to cover its eyes, big tough guy he. My contribution wound up being the olive oil, lemon, and sel gris drizzle. I couldn't bring myself to stick my fingers in there. I've stuffed turkeys and chickens before, which is greusome enough if you think about it too hard, but at least they aren't looking at me.

So we baked it up. We had to take it out a couple of times to check it and drizzle it with more lemon. Meanwhile Fry watched the proceedings with a very great deal of interest.

At last it was done. It looked appetizing enough...

...until Keith opened it up to get the meat out and then it looked like a gory murder victim. Aiighhh!!

We served it up with mustard greens and mashed delicata squash, looking forward to this rustic, authentic meal of the freshest fish we'd ever had. Oh boy. We dug in, and... it tasted like pond water. Exactly like dirty pond water. A few bites near the stuffing tasted pretty good, but most of it had the kind of dirty-water flavor I normally associate with wild catfish. I couldn't eat it. Keith ate a little more than I did but eventually he gave up too.

It wasn't a total waste though. We had fun with the experiment, and the fish ultimately did not go to waste; the rest of our household enjoyed it tremendously.

Happy Early Chanukah to Roxy, Davey, and Fry.

1 comment:

  1. Oh well! Experience is experience - and I'm so glad the kittlins got such a fine dinner!!