A Dish of Fish
By Tim Hazell
“Take a fine mullet and thrust it like a torch into the living flames.” From The Deipnosophistai (Sophists at Dinner) by Athenaeus
Seas have singular characteristics and their inhabitants play interactive roles. Fish evolved from primitive chordates during the Cambrian explosion, about five hundred forty million years ago. Striking adaptions to their environments are seen most clearly in organ specialization. Adapting to intense pressures, cold, and absence of light from the ocean’s surface, deep-sea fish developed spectacular forms and innovations. Many species use luminous organs to hunt by or target their prey as dark silhouettes moving against residual luminescence.
Fish possess the unique lateral line, an organ running body length from midway behind the gill slits to the tail; they use this nerve network to “taste” their prey and interpret its movements—or anticipate an attack—from distances of hundreds of meters.
British and Canadian waters are renowned for their range and quality of catch. Fishing “factories” that gut, clean, and deep freeze on board are active as far north as Greenland. Flounder, turbot, and the coveted Dover sole lend themselves to poaching, baking, or grilling whole, or to be used as steaks, cutlets, and filets. Fish roe in certain varieties is highly prized.
Evoking the literature of Taoist sages, carp are associated with good fortune and can live to a great age. Mirror carp, regarded as the finest variety for the table, come from Israel. Stuffed, baked, or braised, all require a minimum of three hours’ soaking to remove their muddy taste.
Creole and French influences converge in hearty fare common to many heirloom recipes. Homespun dishes, such as fish and shellfish chowders, combine rich and satisfying textures from soups and stews. Bass, mackerel, and cod provided immigrants with a wild bounty from pristine waters.
Salmon, to be absolutely fresh, should have bright, silvery scales, red gills, and close-textured flesh. These “kings” of fish begin their lives in the sea and travel up rivers as adults to spawn and die. Canadian, Norwegian, and Japanese varieties are available frozen. Scotch salmon have strips of tender fat between the muscle fibers and are considered the finest for the smokehouse.
Here is a simple recipe for salmon fillet wrapped in foil. Substitute any firm, fresh fish.
Salmon Fillet in Foil
1 1/4 pounds skinless salmon (or other) fillets cut into 4 pieces
2 hard-cooked eggs, coarsely chopped
2 tbsp. thinly sliced scallions
1 tbsp. fresh dill or fragrant green herb such as parsley or coriander
Good pinch ground white or black pepper
Pinch of salt
1 tbsp. lime juice
Place each piece of fish in the middle of a sheet of foil. Spoon the egg, scallion, lime juice, and herb mixture over the fillets. Salt and pepper to taste. Fold sheets into tightly closed pouches, place on a baking pan, and bake for 10 to 15 minutes in a 450 degree oven. Place on individual plates and serve steaming hot from the pouch. Excellent with new potatoes.