For my beloved Brother who introduced me to the art of cooking, who taught me how to taste and truly love food. Without him I'd never be able to be where I am today.

August 3, 2012

"It is rewarding fishing in troubled waters"

This post is specially dedicated to my brother. He's the best fish cook I know! He's suffering from acute leukemia a we speak and therefore won't be able to cook for a while. I'm caring the family banner in his honor.

I love challenges in every aspect of my life, but especially when cooking: the tougher the challenge, the sweeter the price. In fact, I get easily bored if I keep playing it safe, leaning on the same old same-olds. Of course I love to serve food that I know will taste amazing and make my guests happy for a fact, but in that case I won’t learn anything new myself. Also, I get a far better rush when I’m holding my breath to the very last second, without having a clue of how my food will make people react. The satisfaction when their reactions are positive weighs that much more then.

I made myself a promise on my birthday in the beginning of July. I swore I’d learn how to master the art of cooking fish and other seafood at an amateur level. Until now, cooking fish has been like Russian roulette for me. I never know what the result will be; it’s either very good or very bad and half of the time when I’m in the kitchen sweating it, I’m not really in control of the process. Usually, I’m pretty lucky and I end up serving a superb dish, but I can vividly remember times when the whole thing just ended up in tears. I’m also very dramatic when I blow a meal.

I was so dedicated to my promise that I even offered to work for free for my favorite fish salesman at the indoor market where I always buy fish. I thought that in order to discover the intricacies of this slimy creature of the sea, I had to take it from the top, learn it from the very beginning. Regardless of my good will and fierce motivation, it hit me a few days ago that I hadn’t gotten any further in acquiring deeper fish cooking skills. Even the book on the topic that I received as a birthday gift remained as good as unopened on my nightstand. Something had to be done.

An old proverb says, “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for the rest of his life.” I like the sound of that. As I live nowhere close to decent fishing places, I have no essential equipment, let alone the know-how to use such equipment, I needed a more modern interpretation of that proverb. I decided what I should do instead: study, learn, execute. I took a comfortable position, sat back and dove into Mitch Tonk’s book Fish – The Complete Fish & Sea Food Companion. Something told me Mitch and I would be best friends very soon…

“In the world of professional cooking a chef with good seafood skill and knowledge is highly regarded – the same applies, I think, to the home cook”, says Mitch in the introduction of his book. I fully agree. Maybe it’s the cold fact that ruining fish by cooking it poorly results in something so unpleasant for the palate. So when a cook, professional or amateur, manages to serve you a perfect fish dish, a part of you is always happily surprised and humongously grateful. Like I said, I do have some aces up my sleeve when it comes to fish and seafood, but I can’t rely on them nor my dumb luck, so I continued reading what Mitch had to say.

After internalizing one forth of the book, which had turned into my culinary bible, I felt like my newfound skills where ready to be tested. Ground rule: only buy and cook the freshest fish. If the specific fish type you’re looking for isn’t still jumping before your eyes, leave it. Unfortunately not all people can relish in the luxury of living close to the sea, so one has to apply this rule the best they can. Let’s just say that when fish smells fishy, walk away without hesitation. I got lucky this time. My fish guy offered me a Finnish Sea Salmon caught the very same morning.

Twenty minutes later the creature was staring right at me. I admit I felt intimidated. Failure was not an option, especially when handling such an exquisite raw material. I needed Mitch. Like any true friend, he had my back. After frenetically removing the gills before preparing the fish for cooking (very important by the way), I felt more confident. Another important guideline: keep it simple. Fresh fish needs almost nothing to taste divine. A couple of slices of lemon, fresh dill and small chunks of butter, salt and olive oil. I was good to go. Putting the beauty in the oven would’ve been too easy, so I went for the grill. Double trouble. I was as far out my comfort zone as possible but I had to do it. With my heart racing, I placed the beauty on the hot grill. I heard Mitch’s words in my head: “Fight the urge of wanting to touch it, turn it, flip it…Let it be and only flip it once”. I was being perfectly patient until the poor fish caught fire! All of the dripping butter and the oil ignited the flames and threatened my eyebrows. Panic-stricken, I had to call for back up. After a little help, the situation was once again under control. It was a close call, but precisely the excitement I was looking for.

Fifteen to twenty minutes on each side later, the treat was ready to be served. I’m certain my face was completely white, knowing how nervous I was. I managed to place the fish on the plate without breaking it. Disregarding the minor cosmetic defects, I was pretty proud of the result. Only tasting it would reveal the rest. I called my family to the table and while serving my loved ones I took a little bite. There were no words. I could only cheer and jump up and down of happiness. My reaction almost gave my Mother a heart attack. Safe to say that the fish was a winner. Three more very satisfied mouths can agree to that.

1 comment:

  1. I can tell you all it was awesome, so good and Edith thank you for dedicating this to your brother Lari, I know you love him more than anyhting.


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