And now the arguing, the fight every time, who gets the prize and who got it last, and you always get your way and you're a lying cheat, for the fish only has two eyes and there are three daughters and someone will be left out. Someone always gets left out.
But tonight I'm a lucky one. Tonight I get an eye.
Back in September, out in the country, my uncle had smoked some fresh whole fish. He told us about how his mom and her siblings, growing up in Ireland, would fight over who got to eat the fish eyes. He then popped one out and ate it, showing me that it was okay. So I popped out the other one and ate it. Not bad! Like a little nut. I guess I expected squishy or something, but it wasn't at all. It was quite hard...a bit chalky with a hard center. Fun!
The next day, chilling in a hammock with an Utne magazine, I came across an essay called "The Prize Inside" by Toni Mirosevich, originally written for Gastronomica. Can you believe it was about the anticipation and joy of eating the fish eyes? This time it's a Slavic family. It's a great little read (excerpt above), and it kind of opened my eyes (totally intended pun) about what small things we miss as mid-west Americans with our convenient filleted frozen skinless boneless eyeball-less fish.
I have vowed to try and cook whole fish whenever possible. The flavor is in the bones and the head, it seems. It's hard to get here unless you live by a nice river and can fish...then OMG trout...yum. I've had luck getting frozen whole fish at Asian markets, and I know there's a couple reputable fish mongers not too far from me. I need to check them out.
Here are some whole fish recipes that caught my...erm...eye:
Jaden's whole fish grilled on a banana leaf
Thai whole fish with coriander-chili sauce
Here's a good tutorial on seaming whole fish at epicurious.com
Whole fish baked in salt. I so want to bake stuff in salt.
Steamed whole fish with ginger and scallions
Whole fish with fennel, preserved lemons and olives (this will be great for winter!)
In that same issue of Utne, there was another article about fish, called "a Ditch Runs Through It" by Jeffrey Ewing. He and his work buddy like to blow off steam on their lunch hour by going fishing in drainage ditches in industrial areas. These ditches contain mostly carp, which the author throw back...
Most American fishermen, myself included, consider carp a trash fish. The dull color of wet cardboard, they slog through the soft ditch bed, slurping the bottom silt with round, sphincterlike mouths. They are ugly, which undoubtedly accounts for a portion of their pariah status. Our true selves are reflected, we believe, in our choice of prey--we are what we catch. Fishing for carp, therefore, demonstrates a lack of self-esteem.
Ditch fishers have no such handicap. They are on the bottom rung already, and if you have no problem with the stigma, the bottom rung can offer a great deal of freedom. Billy and I understand this, at least in relation to fishing. After all, when you consider a Dodge transaxle 'structure'--a bass-fishing term for underwater habitat--you don't have very far to fall. We are brothers. Companeros. The only difference between us and our friends down the bank is that they eat what they catch.