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Just Nail The Fish To The Fence Honey, We’re Good

13 Sep

Lisa just loves the greenmarket on Cortelyou Road. Every Sunday she returns with a report about how it has grown, or how busy it is. She presents the week’s trophy fruit or vegetable. This week Lisa said she’d purchased the most gorgeous fish. She called it a striper. I smirked. Nobody sells whole stripers at the greenmarket. Hours passed. Lisa worked intensely cleaning up after the painters. Howard Hall was more in the weeds than usual. The playroom ceiling had been replaced.
I did nothing. Worse than nothing, I played SPORE for the entire afternoon (I’d ordered the game when it first came out, but was only now trying it out. It’s completely absorbing).
The sun set. The kids argued. “So are you gonna cook this fish, or what?” demanded Lisa.
“Me?” shaking free from the care and feeding of my gayly painted two-legged carnivore with antlers, long, bony hands for grasping and nasty biting teeth. “I’m cooking the fish?”
“It’s too big for me to cook. And its got scales.”
“What is it?”
“I told you, a striper.”
“A bass? You mean a ‘sea bass.'”
“A striped bass.”
“Like this?” I asked, holding my hands seven inches apart.
“Much bigger.”

I held my hands nine inches apart. Lisa shook her head.
“A legal striped bass is 28 inches minimum.”
“At least.” Lisa nodded her head.
You bought a wild bass at the greenmarket? Not scaled? Is it gutted?”
“Nope,” said Lisa losing patience with my condescending questions. “The lady said it wasn’t hard to do.”
“It’s not, if you’ve done it a hundred times, but it’s always messy as hell.”
“Forget it!” Lisa stormed. “I thought it’d be fun. I’ll just throw it away. We’ll just have chicken fingers.”
“Throw it AWAY? A striper? Shit.”
“Forget it. You don’t have to do anything. I will. Just tell me how.”
“Tell you how?”
No problem, I taunted, all you need to do is remove the fins, scrape every single last scale of four square feet of fish skin, cut it from its gills to its anus and tug free a couple-three handfuls of icy cold fish guts. Oh, and then clean the god forsaken mess up before even turning on the stove. All at 6:30 on a Sunday. With that I stormed into the garage, found a ten-penny nail and a framing hammer, grabbed the fish (sure enough it had the tin taglooped from gob to gill vent) from on top of the cooler.
“Nice fish,” I said, impressed.
“I told you,” said Lisa.
I nailed the fish’s tail to the fence, turned to Lisa who was cold, and heading back inside. “No way. If I’m going to process this fish in the dark, you’re holding the flashlight.”
After some to-do I recovered two respectable fillets. After pawning off the guts and carcass on the chickens, I picked what remained of the broad leaves from the spindly fig tree and washed my hands and the leaves thoroughly. I sliced the fillets into single-serving pieces and then placed alternating layers–fig leaves, seasoned fish, olive oil–until the baking dish was full. The fish baked at a high heat to draw out the flavor and aroma from the fig leaves. I served it all with baked spaghetti squash seasoned with Chinese Five Spice (fennel, cloves, and cinnamon, star anise and Szechuan peppercorns) and steamed broccoli. (7 servings in 50 minutes, not including fish processing)

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THREE MONSTER FISH HEADS IN A BROKEDOWN COOLER MAKE A DAMN FINE CURRY

24 Mar

My cooking philosophy is rooted in a couple of principles.  First of all I love to recreate dishes I enjoy either from my childhood or from new experiences.  Second I like to learn something new from a new dish whether it’s a new technique or a new ingredient.  And finally the “cooking for Tricia” factor, that is cooking for my wife.  For the strangers out there when I married my wife, I joked that she only ate white things… chicken breast, white rice, pasta, parmesan cheese, and cereal.  Now to be fair she has always been a fan of cuban food but this was never her every day meals.  Over the years I have managed to slowly introduce new foods into her arsenal, dishes that are tasty and add variety to her diet.  This is not one of them.

Fish head curry

I grew up in Puerto Rico and love seafood,  I have no problem with head on fish, and will eagerly gnaw on a fish head.  Living in Richmond, VA I have been shocked at the lack of accessible whole fish, and particularly fish with heads on.  I’ve wanted fish heads for stock, head on fish for frying, baking, grilling and finally for a curry dish.  I’m not sure where this came from, probably from surfing the internet on sites like friedchilies.com seeing food from exotic places and imagining what it will taste like.

The opportunity to prepare this dish came together as I whined at work about the lack of fish heads in Richmond,  one of my coworkers chimed in that her husband and son where going fishing and if I wanted I could have the heads of whatever they caught.  I eagerly signed up.  What she delivered where human size rockfish heads, fresh and bloody in a beat up cooler with a broken stick as a plug on the drain hole.

So I showed up at home with three enormous fish heads, and I can’t exaggerate how big they where, all bloody with collar intact, and what I imagine is the thymus hanging out.  My wife was less than accommodating, as the fish head filled the sink.  So from this point on preparation began.  These monster heads required someone to eat them and it was clear that this is not cooking for Tricia material.  My first thought was my Korean friend Steve Kim, who signed up immediately, I invited Manny mostly from a religious standpoint, but just like the three kings I didn’t expect him to necessarily show up… but he might.  I had to freeze the heads as nobody’s schedule matched up, but this allowed me time to scout out some indian markets.  It just happens that one of my partners at work is from India and had a ready list of his favorite Indian markets.  I hit the market and bought some curry mixes as well as the base ingredients, potato, okra, onion, shallot, tomato, and jasmine rice.  Once we decided on a date for the event  I defrosted the heads 2 days in advance and to my horror realized I had not scaled them!  What the hell to do.  I figured I would grill the scales off which worked remarkably well.

So first disaster averted, I prepared what I would describe as the sofrito, shallots, onions, garlic, lemon grass, curry powder and tomato.  I sautéed them till they were well combined

Once the curry was nice and fragrant, I added the grilled fish heads

I ended up using only two heads as the third wouldn’t fit in my stock pot.  I added water to cover and corrected for seasoning, both curry and salt and pepper and added a large bunch of cilantro at the end.  I cooked it for about 45 minutes.  I served it with Jasmine rice cooked with a piece of pork belly

I blanched and roasted fingerling potato and okra

I also prepared some grilled shrimp… for Tricia as she was very clear she wasn’t going for the fish heads, marinated in garlic and tamarind juice.

Steve brought some garlic naan bread, and some korean marinated beef, which he sautéed.

We feasted, and the fish head curry was spectacular.  the collars and cheeks where superb, I could have jacked up the spice on the curry some more, but it was pleasant and comforting just shy of being a fish stew.

We had a great evening, had a ton of leftovers (now deboned and frozen)  we really had food for around 15 and we only sat 7.  I think I have moved my wife slightly off of her current taste setting as everyone enjoyed the food.  Maybe next time she will try the fish heads.