October 29, 2009

Gastronavigation 3

AS IS ONLY RIGHT and proper, the final column in our Gastronavigation series deals with fellow creatures of the water. They may be fellow creatures, but they’re not as fortunate as we are. These are fellow creatures that we eat. And they’re not even cooked. No, not oysters. Fish.

I first came across Tahitian Raw Fish in Cape Town just before we set off to race across the Atlantic to Rio de Janeiro in a lightweight 33-footer. The chewy little white cubes made a tangy and refreshing appetizer in the hot South African summer.

Here’s a recipe from Florence Herbulot, a talented French sailor, cook, and translator of the Patrick O’Brian books, among many others:

TAHITIAN RAW FISH, from Cooking Afloat, 1965.

For this dish you can use any sea fish as long as it is perfectly fresh: mackerel, whiting, bream.
Place the fish, either in fillets or cut into cubes, in a deep dish. Sprinkle generously with lemon juice; leave to marinate for 1 to 2 hours and then add some olive oil and pepper; marinate for a further 2 hours.

As soon as the fish is really white, with no trace of transparency, it is “cooked,” that is, the flesh has been seethed by the lemon juice just as if it had been boiled in water and vinegar.
The only difference is that it takes longer than cooking, but the flavor is wonderful.

The Latin American version of this is called ceviche, which comes with additional ingredients and many different flavors. One favorite of mine is the Mexican recipe that uses green coriander leaves (cilantro):

CEVICHE APPETIZER, yacht Sangoma, Bellingham, WA, 2009

1 pound fish or scallops
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup lime juice
1 tablespoon diced green chili pepper (jalapeƱo)with seeds removed
1 tablespoon cilantro
A smidgeon of grated green ginger root
Cut meat into small cubes and marinate in juice for three hours, stirring occasionally.

How you serve up your ceviche depends on your imagination. I don’t have much imagination, so I just put it in a bowl and let everybody spear their own bits with toothpicks.

Incidentally, if you can’t catch your own fish, ask the store for frozen Orange Roughy, a deep-sea perch that lives for nearly 150 years. It’s on the threatened list, but we import millions of pounds annually and it’s perfect for these recipes. Just don’t tell the conservationists John Vigor sent you.

Today’s Thought
All men are equal before fish.
— Herbert Hoover, NY Times, 9 Aug 64

“So did you wash your parrot with dish detergent?”
“And what happened?”
“It died.”
“There, I told you not to use detergent.”
“It wasn’t the detergent. It was the spin-drier.”

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