Sunday, October 14, 2007

A fishy story

Ah, fish.
I grew up eating fresh striped bass, rock cod, sand dabs, flounder et cetera.

My family prepared fish in the simplest fashion, steamed and/or fried. Cantonese-style cooking, with accompanying sauces that were light - a bit of soy, ginger and peanut oil infused with ginger and garlic. Garnished with Chinese parsley, shavings of ginger root and slivers of green onion.
Sometimes Dad would prepare a tomato sauce'd version, with fresh tomatoes, yellow and green onions and sweet red and green peppers - sautéed together, then reduced to a fragrant, piquant sauce for over top of a perfectly cooked whole fish.

Dad usually bought fish (along with other fresh groceries) during his daily forays to Chinatown, though he often cast his fishing hook, line and sinker into San Francisco Bay during a striped bass run...

Dad taught me how to scale, gut and clean fish, a handy skill - considering how much fresh fish we consumed. When he caught one or more mongo-sized bass which didn't fit into the kitchen sink, he and I would spread thick layers of newspaper over the kitchen floor to clean them.
A fond memory: Dad and his young daughter on the kitchen floor - wrestling with the cleaning of huge scales a-flyin' guts a-spillin'...

The man didn't settle for anything less than the freshest when it came to all food, particularly fish. If not his own catch, he'd get them at the fishmonger's in Chinatown, often netted live from the holding tanks right there in the shop.

Fish was on the dinner table at least twice a week. For the evening repast, a whole steamed fish or fillet of sand dabs (in black bean sauce) was served 'family-style' alongside a variety of other dishes.

Then -
fish in a whole new form entered our eating repertoire.
They came in a box and were small rectangular shaped bites of fish.
Fish sticks: Mrs. Paul's or Gorton's.

My fam-of-origin found fish sticks to be a most intriguing food:- pre-formed cooked fish meat. Breaded, fried, frozen and packaged. Ready for a quick re-heat in frying pan or oven.

We actually enjoyed eating fish sticks.
Mom and I ate them for lunch. My brothers and I had them for after school snack, liberally soused with catsup or dipped in a bit of Dad's homemade tartar sauce. Dad was a chef by profession, and went through the trouble of making fresh tartar sauce for a mealy snack of frozen fish sticks...I suppose he felt it necessary to provide something homemade to eat as the rest of us indulged in our fishy fast food fad (it must be mentioned here that Dad didn't partake much of fish sticks).

After a pre-fab fish snack, the lot of us would sit down to dinner, ready to descend with chopsticks-in-hand upon a delectable entreé of fresh fish ~ cooked to tasty, tender and delicate perfection...
topping off our bellies with the real deal.


justducky said...

Just around the corner my menfold were casting their lines into the striped bass run, too.

I picture the fish swooping by our house, rounding the rock outcroppings and heading your Dad's way!

I got to scrape scales off, too and grapple with fish guts.

Maybe we had fresh bass for dinner the same night, from the same school of fish!

baffle said...

...dinner....from the same school of fish on...those bass runs...
i like the thought of that connection.

Conn said...

Wonderful photo. I think every famil has one... I have a few of my grandpa holding up his bounty. He too took me a fishin' and taught me all the ropes. Although now, I don't think I could gut one.

John said...

what a great story. thanks bev. it reminded me of my dad. he loves to fish and my mom does equally simple preparations. i was interested to see what effect the pre-formed processed food had on the household. i remember being fascinated by Chef-Boy-R-Dee ravioli in a can! no amount of pleading would ever get mom to buy it though. she insisted that all her dishes be from scratch.

baffle said...

Ah, John - you guys were purists indeed! In addition to fish sticks, our family also succumbed on far too many occasions to Chef-Boy-R-Dee canned spaghetti for lunch. In recalling the paste-y, mooshy consistency of the noodles and the overly sweet flavour of the insipid tomato sauce, I now feel slightly sickened (ditto Campbell's Chicken Noodle soup, come to think of it: slimey, salty, tough bits of old spent chicken meat...)!

On the subject of gutting fish - I had to clean a fish recently - and now find it to be borderline objectionable...

Losing touch with my closer-to-nature food prep roots, or is it a heightened awareness of
'consuming flesh'? I don't do chicken thighs much anymore either because I focus on the pimply chicken skin, globs of yellow fat and the connective sinew...

Ai ya!
You all sure got me on a food talk rollllllllllll here......