If you’re still secretly wishing you dared cook fish for Rosh Hashana (you’re supposed to…), but don’t know how to even begin, today I’ve got some good news for you: it’s breathtakingly simple.
Americans have a fear of fish. My dad took me fishing one time when I was seven, in the Adirondacks. I caught two small bass, which was no mean feat for a seven-year-old because bass are feisty. It was so exciting! I beamed on the walk back to our summer cabin. Dad cleaned and scaled the fish, and cooked them for me in a pan, and they were heavenly! Did I ever go fishing again? No. Did I develop a passion for seafood? No. What’s up with Americans? Fish is so delicious, and so not a big part of our beef-and-chicken crazy culture. Granted, we’ve got great beef, and some fine chickens.
When I moved to Spain I realized I knew precious little about seafood that didn’t come pickled, smoked, or canned, and when I opened a restaurant – opposite the sea, no less – I knew I’d have to remedy that in a hurry. How I got through a season without it astonishes me now, first because where I was located people ate way more seafood than meat, and second because Mediterranean seafood is out of this world, especially in capable Spanish hands.
I went through seafood boot camp courtesy of a superb chef who joined me in the kitchen for one season and to whom I remain eternally grateful, even if in other ways he added a tad more drama to the experience than I bargained for.
It wasn’t so much that I learned many of his recipes (he never explained them the same way twice – might as well have been my great aunt Lucy) as it was I learned how to handle seafood – how to choose and prepare and cook it properly, which is everything, and which is at the heart of the big fish mystery to most Americans, and I suppose to most people who live far from the water.
Speaking of water, of course it affects the flavor of the things that swim in it, and the Mediterranean is justly prized. You may not have access to Mediterranean fish where you live, but a good red snapper is a perfect alternative.
I’ve eaten fish in and from many countries, and to date, the Spanish still get my vote for best seafood chefs on the planet. And that said, with only slight modification, this classic recipe could just as easily have been made by my grandmother (who never set foot on Spanish soil) as by Carlos, and it rather closely was. Of course. 😉
Shana Tovah, Happy New Year.