Monday, July 13, 2009

Honoring the Fish

This was Saturday night's dinner (and yes I'm going to post about the Mango Festival, but I had to talk about this first). These headless men are our next door neighbors and this picture was taken Saturday afternoon, just a few hours before dinner. It doesn't get any fresher than that and this fish was a total surprise. As much as I used to complain about having to live in Florida, I certainly can't complain about living in one of the few places in the U.S. where your next door neighbor can arrive at your house without notice, bearing fifteen pounds of dolphin that only hours ago was swimming offshore. Ok, so I know the rest of the country has jumped on the mahi-mahi bandwagon, but real Floridians call it dolphin and we know we're not eating the entertainment at Sea World when we do. This dolphin was like Christmas to me. It happens to be my favorite fish because it's mild, has a dense texture like meat and is obviously from right here where I live. I also love that the fish was caught by people I know and love, that I know they only caught one, and that we didn't waste any of it.

Some people may be horrified by fishing. The hook through the fish's mouth is pretty awful and I get the animal cruelty angle, but while I am very opposed to fishing purely for sport, I am strongly supportive of people who fish for food, only take what they can eat and then don't waste any of it. I think it's a lot less cruel than say factory farming for cows, pigs and chickens or commercial fishing where other species are tangled in nets and left to die. Fishing for your own food can also be pretty economical. At my local fish market, dolphin sells for fifteen dollars a pound. We got this fish for free. Had we paid for the meat, it would have cost us over two hundred dollars. Of course, our neighbors had to buy equipment and take their boat out, which involves a small investment, but if you fish regularly I think you make that up fairly quickly, plus you get a nice afternoon out to sea.

Years ago when I first began cooking professionally I was a vegetarian. I didn't want to kill animals and handle raw meat. The whole idea was appalling to me, but I worked in a large hotel and I couldn't avoid it, though believe me, I tried everything to get out of steaming lobsters and fileting venison. The chef I worked under noticed my aversion and asked me what was wrong. I explained to him how I felt about killing animals and how it made me sick and guilty. He took my concerns seriously. He validated my feelings about this, but then explained to me that when you cook meat you must always honor the animal who gave its life for our sustenance. You must thank it for its sacrifice and cook every single meal perfectly and with reverence. You must use every bit of the animal and never waste. This meant boiling lobster and shrimp shells, fish skins, heads and bones for stock. It meant finding uses for the parts of the animal most of us find distasteful (including me) and finding ways to make them delicious or useful. Honoring the animal also means supporting farmers and fishermen who raise their stock in a sound, healthy way - not cramming sick animals on top of one another, feeding them food that isn't what they're supposed to be eating and throwing anti-biotics and hormones at them. Never cook frivolously. Always be mindful. Prepare meat in the finest way you can, so as not to end up with something inedible that has to be thrown out, which, according to my chef, was an insult to the animal and a waste of its life. I have never forgotten the chef's words to me.

We honored this dolphin Saturday night. Everyone was thankful and we all felt so lucky to be able to eat this fresh, abundant fish. We seasoned it lightly and grilled it topped with mango salsa. The parts cut away during the cleaning process were saved for bait, although next time I'm asking for the head and spine to make stock so I can make a Bahamian style fish soup. This fish brought people together when it gave its life for our dinner. We bonded with our neighbors. Because there was so much fish, more people came over to eat it and new friendships were forged between people who may never have met. It was a beautiful night and we were all truly fed.

1 comment:

  1. Great fish and I can only imagine it was excellent on the grill with mango salsa. Another thing you should give thanks for is having thoughtful neighbors who shared the dolphin with you.

    Too bad my neighbors don't fish.