The way this challenge is set up you don't have complete freedom to select what you will be making. . . when your day of the week rolls around you turn to the recipe that is next in the book and have at it. Irene had to conquer her fear of eating eggs and did this with style. In this section of the book many of us are dealing with fish issues. The challenge is a blessing and a curse - it forces you to push your boundaries as a cook. Boy, does it ever.
Fish is firmly in the category of foods that caused me grief as a child. . . hell, as an adult. If it wasn't tuna from a tin or wrapped in three inches of batter from the fish and chip store I wasn't going to eat it. No dessert - fine. No TV - equally fine. It wasn't until about four years ago when I approached 300 lbs on the scales that I decided a more healthy diet was needed. This diet includes fish. In fact we cook fish every week and in some cases two or three times a week.
You know that I discovered that I really like fish. The gag reflex that I experienced as a kid has left. Having said that, I had never cooked a whole one. No, not at all.
Cooking fish now being fine, I guess the next part in my transition was cooking a whole fish. This recipe called for small, whole fish such as porgies, bass, or pompano. In fairness, the book did suggest fillets with skin but the title wasn't Fillets with Skin Pan-Roasted with Marjoram and Lemon. I wouldn't be able to look my fellow Pomodori in the eye had I whimped out now (I shall save that for the lamb kidney recipe perhaps).
I went off to the fish monger and asked for porgies. He looked at me as if I had two heads.
"I've never heard of those," he declared.
I knew immediately that he was a fraud. Fish mongers being in short supply in this area . . . I kept at it.
I had read online that bream were a type of porgy. There were some nice looking bream on ice in the display case so I asked for the smallest ones he had (Marcella suggests that they be 3/4 to 1 pound each). I asked him to gut and scale them for me.
Imagine my shocked look when he asked me if I wanted to keep the guts?
What in god's name would I want that for? Fertilizer, I suppose, but it wasn't happening - the raccoons are already bad enough this summer.
I was happy to pick up a nicely wrapped package of fish.
The cats were thrilled when I brought that fish home. In fact, it is safe to say that this has been their favourite challenge by far. Never have I seen them so enthused about something I was cooking. Clearly they were hoping that one of those fish would be flopped off of the counter and into their territory.
Never having cooked a whole fish I wasn't prepared to see it looking up at me. It didn't bother me from a 'this was once a swimming beast with a beating heart who nuzzled their young' perspective - being a carnivore I don't much care about that - there is a reason why humans have incisors folks and it ain't to gnaw on a carrot. I just didn't like staring at the meat I was due to cook and having it stare BACK!
This recipe calls for pan-roasting - a technique that is neither sautéing nor braising. It provides for more controlled heat then with oven roasting. The end result has the slow concentration of flavour that comes from roasting combined with the juiciness one gets from using a hot heat source under the pan.
The recipe is simplicity itself. Dredge the fish in flour. Place it in a hot pan with oil/butter, marjoram, and garlic. Brown. Squirt with lemon, add salt pepper, and cover until cooked. Done.
Transfer to a platter, pour the juices over it, and serve.
Now we were presented with a new dilemma. How to eat the cooked fish laying on the platter staring up at us.
Never having cooked a whole fish I didn't have a clue how to eat it. How was it de-boned? What happened to the head and tail? Did one eat the skin?
In the end I discovered that the skeletal structure came out relatively easily taking the head and tail with it. However, small bones remained. Both of us have relatives who almost died choking on a fish bone (doesn't everyone?) so we gingerly ate our fish.
Once we got past the head, the bones, and the tail we discovered that we liked it. The mild, almost sweet fish, was wonderful with the garlic, marjoram, and lemon. Indeed, we liked it a lot.
I doubt that we'll ever enjoy a whole fish in the same way that someone raised near the coast might but we enjoyed the combination of flavours; we won't be fearful of ordering a whole fish when we're next along the Mediterrean.
I was happy that I had met this challenge and not shirked my responsibility nor fallen into a huddled mass on the floor.
I may save that for my next challenge - squid.