Chi came up with a great idea for how to prepare a nice cut of fish we’d had in the freezer for awhile, but things went awry….
Listen while you read to “Resistance”, our Celtic-inspired war song that we will hopefully someday get into a position to cut a good recording of. This rough live track is from when we originally premiered the piece a couple years ago at a legendary punk dive bar in L.A.
09 September 2012
One of the things Chi had panic-bought whilst in the throes of the trauma from the 3/11/11 events in Japan was a very expensive large hunk of salmon. It had been sitting in the big freezer under the house ever since then, and we finally decided to defrost it and cook it. I trawled the ‘net for recipes and cooking techniques for an entire side of salmon and found a few that sounded good. The next day was Sunday, so I picked up a few veggies at the farmers market that the recipe I had settled on called for. Later that day Chi came up with a wonderful idea: since we have so many banana plants now, why not oven-roast it wrapped in a banana leaf? I went back online and looked for more recipes using that cooking technique and came up with loads more prospects.
I spent quite a bit of time analyzing each one, and before making my final decision about what type of flavouring to use, I consulted Chi. He said that he wanted a transparent taste that wouldn’t mask the taste of the fish. I ruled out the highly spiced Thai coconut concoction and decided to synthesize a Brenda K Original marinade based on five other recipes and serve it with Thai-style coconut rice instead of the fingerling potatoes we’d bought at the farmers’ market that afternoon for the other style of preparation before Chi came up with the banana leaf idea. It was interesting how each recipe I consulted had some useful and unique detail to contribute to the overall effort.
I went out front and harvested a basketful of herbs from the garden (lemongrass, thyme, mint, lemon verbena) and then looked for an appropriate banana leaf to cut. I didn’t want to cut a whole perfect leaf off of a growing plant, and one of the Cuban red plants by the front porch happened to have a leaf whose main stem was broken in the middle, so I cut the broken part off of that one, hoping it would be long enough to adequately cover that big piece of fish, went back in and started getting the other stuff ready.
I decided to simply bed the fish down with most of the herbs and save myself another 30 minutes of having to stem them and mince them finely to mix into the marinade. I tasted the marinade after whisking it together, and wow, It was perfect! Transparent, light and flavourful, just the right balance of salty, spicy and tart with a subtle sweetness from the grated ginger, that blended beautifully into the olive oil which gave it a soft roundness.
The banana leaf turned out to be a little less intact than I’d thought earlier (the outermost part of it had been shredded by strong wind), which didn’t bode well for the steaming aspect of this cooking technique, but since it was so late by the time I got the whole package assembled, tied up with cooking string and ready to put in the oven, I didn’t bother trying to fix it. I just put it in and hoped for the best.
After making the salad, fluffing up the rice and setting the table, I took the fish out to check it and was nonplussed to note that it didn’t have the telltale white-ish fat bubbling out between the flakes like salmon usually does when cooked properly, and the colour looked too dark. It had only been in the oven for about 20 minutes at 400 degrees and it was two pounds and almost two inches thick on the “big” side. I figured that would be the absolute bare minimum amount of time it would take to cook all the way through. I stuck a steak knife into the thick side in a couple places through a big crack in the banana leaf and there was no difference in colour between the outside and the inside. That didn’t bode too well either, but there was at least a little moisture between the flakes. I had a sinking feeling this wasn’t going to turn out well.
After I brought it to the table we cut off a hunk for each of us from the big end, and when I took a bite, my suspicions were confirmed: Epic. Fail! Fuck! I just spent my whole night on this production and it’s an incontrovertible disaster! In addition to being overcooked and too dry, the fish was also ungodly salty, and I hadn’t put that much salt on it. The coconut rice was a little too dry also. Chi started in on me about how he had pointed out the warning on the package. Yeah, and the warning he pointed out said “Must be heated to 165 degrees”. WTF does that have to do with salt?!
He dug the package out of the trash and showed it to me. I carefully examined the ingredient list (well, there were only two ingredients, so does that actually constitute a “list”??) and it said “Salmon, Salt”. I thought it said only “Salmon” when I originally glanced at it briefly. He went on and on about how he had been trying to call my attention to the fact that the fish already had salt in it. WHISKEY-TANGO-FOXTROT?! That’s complete bullshit! He had in fact been harrying me all evening to put salt and pepper on the fish! Why would he have done that if he knew in the first place that it was shiozake (Japanese-style salted salmon)?? He kept ranting and raving at me about the fucking salt, so I just did the only logical thing and left the table and went into my office room to wait for him to finish eating and go away.
Anyway, the lightbulb finally came on. I have never seen fresh fish vacuum-sealed like that, and the texture hadn’t seemed quite right to me when I was handling it prior to cooking. The warning on the label saying it must be heated to 165 degrees must have meant that the fish was already pre-processed and only needed to be heated up – not “cooked”. It never entered my mind that it would have been shiozake because we’ve never bought that before. I don’t even like it! It’s too dry and salty for me even when it’s prepared correctly. It’s a damned good thing I didn’t do the Thai coconut treatment because that would have been totally nasty; or might the coconut milk have tempered down the saltiness and moistened it, making it more palatable?
At any rate, it annoyed the hell out of me that he would give me a Japanese-style processed fish I have absolutely no experience dealing with and suggest a wholly inappropriate cooking technique for it, and then blame and abuse me when it turns out badly. To be fair, it was almost certainly a simple mistake on his part rather than a typical example of his bloody-mindedness, or more likely still, a mutual misunderstanding on both of our parts. What-the-fuck-ever….
The next morning I wondered what we were going to do with the considerable amount of leftovers, but It didn’t take me long to think of a way to redeem that unfortunate fish: A salmon quiche! The richness of the quiche will help revive the dry, too-salty, overcooked fish, especially if I flake it up pretty finely. I’ll just have to rinse off that wonderful marinade 😦 If there’s any still left after that, it will make a lovely addition to a salad or omelette.
Well I’ll be damned! Chi just came within spitting distance of apologizing to me about the food fight last night, and the last one and the last one and the last one, and the last one, etc. Well, he practically never apologizes for his atrocious behaviour, but he will occasionally acknowledge that he is in the wrong, and just did so today. The fond hope is that he will eventually figure out that language- and culturally-based misunderstandings are a day-in, day-out phenomenon with relationships like ours and learn to cope with it instead of running his incredibly dysfunctional programme every time one occurs.