Saturday, June 18, 2011

A Tale of a Girl, a Fish, and a Wuss

Not long ago, on a day teeming with rain, Clare and I were channel surfing in a vain attempt to find something to occupy the time. Not having an abundance of patience, I have a tendency to not stay too long on any one channel – especially as most are bogged down with commercials. Clare got weary of me having a thumb like Speed Racer and begged me to stop on a channel, any channel, so we could actually watch something for more than two seconds.

Grumbling, I landed on Food Network, where a chef by the name of Anne Burrell was roasting a whole fish. Don’t know if you’ve ever seen Anne, but let me just say Clare could take a few lessons from her on how to spike hair. But I digress.

As we watched Anne go through the motions of cooking the fish, a brilliant idea (at least I thought) came to my mind: Clare and I would attempt making the same dish!

When I blurted this thought out, Clare looked at me like I was insane. “Matts, we are totally useless in the kitchen,” she said. “I mean you practically live on canned soup and Saltines, and I nuke everything straight from the freezer. We’re better candidates for Anne’s other show, “Worst Cooks in America.” Why, in the world, would you want to do something as goofy as this?”

I told her that it would be fun, a challenge, and would prove to Jed (who was out of town, again) that I did possess some degree of domesticity. She, of course, didn’t believe me, told me she had read somewhere that when you cook a whole fish their eyes explode, and suggested we start with something a little easier – tuna salad, perhaps?

Nope. My mind was made up. We were going to take this on and be Culinary Geniuses! Domestic Divas! The next Master Chefs!

Coincidentally, Jed called right after I had this brainstorm. When I told him what we were about to do, he couldn’t speak, because of laughing so hard. When he finally caught his breath, he said, “A whole fish? You and Clare? Oh, this should be interesting. Just do me a favor and try not to burn the house down.” I let him know we would document everything, taking pictures and all, so he could see the fruits of our success. Take that, Mr. Smarty-Pants!

After printing off the recipe from Anne’s web page, I made a list of ingredients and practically dragged Clare to the car. After a quick trip to the grocery store, we swung by Blue Water Seafood for our fish. They recommended a red snapper.

Now while I was all gung-ho to make this recipe, I drew the line at having to gut the poor thing. So I made sure that was already done, along with all the gills being removed. I tried very hard not to give our fish a name, but failed miserably and ended up calling him "Bob.”

Say hi to Bob:

So there we were, me, Clare with the camera, and Bob, alone in the kitchen -- us eyeing him with trepidation, him giving the two of us a rather glazed look.

While he hung out on the counter, we got the prep out of the way by assembling some herbs, including bay leaves, slicing a lemon, smashing some garlic cloves and measuring out some white wine. Actually, I did most of the prep, while Clare preferred sipping the wine and taking the occasional picture.

Then I took a deep breath and started removing Bob’s fins. Any idea how sharp snapper fins are? They’re like little razors! I only realized when I knicked myself a couple of times when I started handling the sliced lemon. More than a few unladylike words came from my lips. After the de-finning was done, I needed to make a few small slits in his skin on both sides.

Never having worked with a whole fish before, and especially a red snapper, I just figured I would make three quick cuts with my chef's knife and move on to the next step. Ummm, not so fast. His skin was really tough! I practically had to make a stabbing motion to pierce his hide [it was at this point that Clare started singing the theme music from “Psycho”]. With the slits finally completed, I was feeling a bit braver and thought I would part his fish lips to see inside his mouth.

Clare had wandered out of the kitchen at this point, so wasn’t there when I discovered red snappers have TEETH! They have a TONGUE! This was not something I expected.

I yelled for Clare to get her butt back in the kitchen. As soon as she saw Bob’s open mouth, she started making all kinds of squealing girl noises. “I. Will. NOT. Eat. This!” said she. “You can’t make me. No how. No way. And you can take your own damn pictures from this point on!” And with that, she stomped out of the kitchen like the bratty three-year old she can sometimes be. Wuss!

But I would not be deterred. It was now a battle between me and Bob. After stuffing him with some herbs and lemon, I gently placed him on a lined baking sheet, covered Bob with more herbs, lemon slices and smashed garlic cloves. I poured some white wine that Clare hadn’t managed to guzzle over everything, popped him into the oven, and set the timer.

When Bob's allotted roasting time was done, I closed my eyes and took a very deep breath before opening the oven. I reached in and, sure enough, his eyeballs had popped. I let out little whimpers, but quickly collected myself. Damn if I was going to let Clare see me have a case of the vapors!

I needed to move Bob from the baking sheet onto a cutting board. However, Bob was stuck because his upper fish lip was fused to the foil! After some tugging, he finally came loose, minus part of his lip.

See what I mean about the teeth and tongue?

My little whimpers started again, but I managed to fillet the poor thing and remove the bones, then busied myself getting the rest of the meal finished up and on a plate.

Perhaps not the most appealing plate that was ever composed, but I did it! I cooked a whole fish! When I let out a loud “Boo-Yah!”, Clare stuck her head in the kitchen to see what was going on.

I proudly, oh so proudly, pointed to the plate for her to admire my handiwork. She said it was the saddest looking fish specimen she had ever seen, still refused to taste it, and reached in the freezer for a frozen dinner to throw in the microwave.

After all the drama, I have to admit having rather mixed feelings about picking up my fork for the first mouthful. But, I took the plunge and...well, Bob tasted pretty good! Actually better than pretty good.

When I shared all this with Jed, he was impressed and suggested I try some other culinary challenges. Hmmm, not a bad idea. Now I just need to keep Clare from hiding the remote.

Go here to find out what other trouble I've gotten myself into.

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