Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Fish Resolution

One of the dirty little secrets of my upbringing is that from birth to the time I moved out, we never ate fish for dinner. Not one time. The only fish that was ever in the house was gefilte for passover and lox on special occasions like my mother's birthday party. There was no tuna, no flounder, no bass, no halibut, nothing. Dinner was never ever ever a piece of fish. The reason, insane though it may sound, was simple: my dad didn't like fish. So we children grew up never eating it.

So I reached maturity without a taste for fish. In fact, given the two fish products ever in the house, I only understood fish as something deeply smelly and not really fit for ingestion. And, sadly, I still have significant lingering fish issues.

Issue #1: Fish is not meat. No matter how it's dressed up, no matter if it's a tuna steak, no matter, no matter, fish is not as substantial a protein as meat or poultry. My favorite way to eat fish? As a prelude to the meat course.

Issue #2: Eating fish in a restaurant is a far different proposition from eating fish at home. I estimate that for every pound of fish cooked in a restaurant a pound of butter is used. This masks the objective blandness that is fish. Fat makes everything taste good. At home, where I control what goes into the pot, pounds of butter are reserved for baking, pats of butter for cooking. I simply cannot, in good conscience, throw a stick or two of butter in a pan to cook a single fillet. As a result, my fish tastes like vaguely proteinaceous matter, while restaurant fish tastes like a butter delivery system.

Issue #3: Not so hot on salmon. Salmon is, for me, the fishiest of the fish. I can eat sardines and anchovies and mackerel, but salmon just makes me blanch. This complicates the cooking of fish as salmon is universally available where as, for example, monkfish is not. Smoked salmon? I won't even touch it. When we have it at parties I force devoted partner or my mother to be in charge of touching it.

But I know that fish is good for me, not fattening, and an important part of my cancer avoidance regimen. So on the list of slightly silly new year's resolutions was the resolution to eat fish a minimum of one time per week. After all it will break up the chicken monotony. Week 1 I cheated. I mean, I didn't really cheat, we ate a sea creature, but it was a scallop. I should mention that I 100% consider scallops to be food. I love scallops and I have some kind of minor superpower that enables me to perfectly cook them every single time. Of the under the sea creatures we eat, scallops easily make up 50-75%. My problem is that I honestly believe most fish doesn't taste like anything. Scallops taste like something.

So yesterday we had a cod fillet for dinner. Simply cooked in a pan with a pat of butter, a sprinkling of panko, thyme, salt and pepper. It tasted like, um, warm vaguely protein stuff with salt and pepper. And I am a confident enough cook that I know this is just what fish tastes like. I've had some better luck with mackerel, which is a stronger tasting fish, and if I was willing to salt my cod and add it to mashed potatoes with heavy cream, I know it would be quite tasty, but it would defeat the healthy motivation behind eating fish in the first place.

So much like a previous year's resolution of doing something every day for the entire year (if you know what it was, so much the better, but I'm not repeating it here), this is going to be one I just get through and hope that, as I explore additional fish and additional recipes, fish becomes something I enjoy and not something I take like vitamins.


  1. More or less with you on all counts. Trying to get past my previous distaste for salmon, I think I'm getting there but haven't tried to cook it yet.

    I don't do the resolution thing, but am also looking to eat more fish. Made a bouillabaisse for xmas dinner, and this last weekend made a fish soup and grilled a whole branzino the way I had it at Eataly.

    Also, I think I may be addicted to sardines and other oily fishy fish. And it's good for you!! Will be blogging about my attempts as well. Good luck!

  2. I should say that I'm seeking to cook and eat more fish as a hedonist, not as an exercise in healthy eating. Doing shit because it's good for you pretty much invariably doesn't last. I'm looking to learn more about fish because I think I've been limiting my palate for too long. If it happens to be good for me, that's a side effect.

  3. Ah! AAAHHHHH!

    I'm the kid of a fisherman, and still prefer fish to any other protein source. If you ever have fish prepared well, you'll change your tune. There are myriad ways to cook fish without crazy calories. But first, you need to follow 2 rules:

    1) Never buy fillets or steaks. Don't buy a fish unless you can see its eyes. They should be bright and shiny and look wet. Not dry and flat. Old fish will never taste good, texture or flavor wise. Best bet is to buy either at the dock or from a fish market. Grocery stores are not reliable sources of fresh fish. And, since you want to buy the fish with eyes...you want the fish guy to fillet it for you. This is easily done at the fish market.

    2) Never buy farm raised fish. For Pete's sake...farm raised salmon even has COLOR added. Tilapia is raised in disgusting ways. Don't do it. If at all humanly possible, buy fish caught in the wild, in the USA, or waters thereof.

    That's a start.

    Now, how to cook a fish is pretty simple, but if you start with less than fresh impeccable stuff...you'll be disappointed.

    Salmon? Easiest fish in the world. Broil it.
    Snapper? Try Livornese style...in tomatoes, lemon, onion, and olives...start it on top of the stove, then into the oven.
    Cod? What are you doing with thyme, salt and pepper? Another great fish to broil or to roast in foil with slices of tomato and lemon. Cod is never soft, mushy or flabby if cooked right. Flaky flaky flaky!

    I guess I just don't have a humble opinion! HA! ---Elle (Dove on Ravelry)