Friday, January 19, 2007
Growing up we often had fish and chips on Fridays. Being raised catholic and all, and being from a predominantly catholic neighbourhood, just about everybody was eating that same dinner every friday. Not from a shop either, but home fried. If we were lucky (and most often we were) it was fresh-caught-then-frozen fish that my uncle supplied or we caught ourselves. Usually perch or pickeral, but he also went on long distance fishing trips. The kind where they flash freeze your catch on the water and ship it home for you. Or can it! Can you imagine catching your own salmon and bringing home a case of cans? Freaky LOL. We had Portuguese neighbours who would sometimes drop off a large cod. And I mean LARGE. Sometimes moving. We did our own smelt fishing every year as well. I remember running around the bank in my snow suit, watching the men wade in the water with the nets. It was dark outside, and it was always a big surprise when I realized the water was not glinting, but rather the silvery bodies of what seemed like a million tiny fish being hauled onto the beach. The men hauled the nets up and dumped the contents onto the sand. Then the children and whoever else wanted to scrambled along, grabbing handfuls of the slippery things and tossing them into whatever containers were handy. Bushel baskets, pop crates, styrofoam coolers. Then the still moving fish were driven home and dumped over a snow bank in the back yard. If it was nice enough we would sit at the picnic table, if not then the kitchen table covered in a thick layer of newspaper. I was like four, and already knew how to take a pair of scissors, insert it into the "vent" on the belly, one quick SNIP!. Squeeze out the icky stuff in the middle. Then snip off the head and toss it into a dishpan to be rinsed under water. Can't recall scaling them. Do they even have scales? I seem to remember they do. I DO remember the SMELL. Bleah. "Fresh fish should not smell, it should have the aroma of the sea". Well, first of all it is a LAKE. And second of all, have you smelled that water lately? Not exactly a bed of roses by friend. The smallest ones were set aside to be battered and fried that evening. Our favourite part was the crunchy tail and fins. Now, I am not telling you all this to gross you out. No sirree. I actually remember those days with fondness. We got to stay up late and run around on the beach in winter. We got to chase little fish flipping around on the sand. Sometimes we got the bright idea to hide one of those little fishies in our pocket. You know, to play with later. Or maybe with the intent to drop it into the aquarium and keep it as a pet. Maybe even just for safe keeping so we can grab another handful to bring to the bucket. But inevitably we would forget about that poor thing, and it would die in that warm pocket. And our snow suits would be hung up in the downstairs hallway. And in a few days, the stench would be unbearable! And mother would go looking to see what the problem was, and find our little fishie friends and BOY would we get in trouble. It was like our "thing". Some people have a special meal, or trip, or holiday tradition. We had dead fish in snowsuit pockets. To each their own. The bigger fish were rinsed and cleaned up a bit (maybe scaled?) and then frozen in baggies to use later. We ate those ones the same way as perch, fins and tail removed. As we got older, we were less and less involved in the process, until we would even refuse to help round up the flipping and flopping haul, and finally, would not even eat them anymore. We pinched our noses at the smell and screamed and hollared and gagged and insisted it was the most disgusting event in our lives. And really, it kind of was LOL. I don't know when and how, but I developed an aversion to fish with skin on it. Smelt are too small to skin, as are perch and most people don't bother skinning pickerel either. I am the wasteful sort that would rather have to buy or catch twice as many and go ahead and take the time to remove that bit, thank you. My uncle knew this, and sometimes he would deliver a SPECIAL bag of fish for me. Clean and pristine, not a scale or scrap of skin or bloodline in sight. Not so much as a trace of silver or dark meat. He spoiled me like that. Some time in the eighties alcohol finally pickled his brain and at this point he doesn't really even know who I am most of the time. But once in a while he delivers a package of venison or elk sausage, or pristine fish fillets to my dad to give to me. Tonight I am recreating a fish and chip supper, with many concessions. No deep frying. And frozen cod from the grocery store. I will make a vinagrette of lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper and dried thyme and pour it over the fish. Then it will be baked until it flakes easily with a fork. At the same time, I will making "oven fries". Chipped potatoes tossed with salt and pepper and a bit of olive oil, roasted until brown and crisp. Sure, not as good as the deep fried kind. But with a drizzle of good dark vinegar and extra salt, more than acceptable. Some good cole slaw with oil and vinegar dressing (and a LOT of finely ground black pepper) and a small pan of biscuits. And if I am really feeling nostalgic, I will serve the fries in a folded newspaper hat like my mother used to do for us, and her mother used to do for her.