When we lived in Andorra, after many months of going to the fishmonger, clueless, I realized that I needed to learn fish.
My problems: I didn’t know what the fish were (all the names were in Catalan) and, even if I did know their names I still didn’t know what to do with them.
So, every week I would take my number, and, while waiting my turn, watch the local women (and the odd man) come up to the counter and order enough fish, shellfish, crustaceans, etc. to feed the entire country.
Then it would be my turn and I would order my lonely salmon filet, or some gambas (shrimp) or, maybe I would be daring and order trout (I knew that one).
Once I was very brave and ordered a larger fish of unknown (to me) species and actually was able to ask the fishmonger to clean it for me.
I was so proud!
After she scaled and gutted the fish she cut off the head and made two lovely filets.
Then she put the filets, head, tail and skeleton all in the bag and handed it to me.
Why would I want that? Isn’t that sort of the purpose of having them clean it – I mean, other than the work, to get rid of the unwanted bits?
I now know that I was meant to take it home ‘para la sopa’ (for the soup). Everything was ‘para la sopa’.
I was talking (trying to – she spoke no English) to my neighbor one day, after a heavy rain. As we chatted she kept reaching up to the stone wall next to us, plucking off snails and dropping them into her pocket – para la sopa!
Back to fish: With the help of a Finnish friend I eventually learned to master various forms of sole, and one called merluza (don’t remember the translation). I was getting the hang of this fish thing!
One Friday they didn’t have my chosen fish and I decided to branch out further. I paced the case while waiting my turn, checking them all out carefully.
Finally I decided: turbot.
I’d heard of turbot, probably have even eaten it. It was flat, so I figured it was probably a lot like sole. It was 20 euros a kilo but the sole was around the same price and 2 sole for dinner usually cost around 7 euro so that would be okay. It did look a little heavier so I figured one would be enough.
My turn came and I pointed to a likely looking fish and asked them to clean it. The one stipulation mon mari makes is that I don’t bring home ‘whole’ food – not after the chicken incident. He made a slit in the side, stuck his finger in, pulled out some stuff and that was it.
Seemed a little strange but what do I know! Then he weighed it: 2.5 kilos!
I was speechless – even more so than normal in a Catalan environment.
He wrapped it up and handed it to me. I had no idea how to say “uh no thanks, changed my mind” and don’t think he would have taken it back anyway. This had better be one very good fish!
That night I handed it to mon mari. He gave me a blank look: ‘what is this and what do you expect me to do with it?’ ‘Make filets out of it,’ I said, ‘….after all those fishing trips you should be an expert!’ (Okay, okay, I thought they actually fished!)
Then the bad news…I don’t know what the fishmonger did but he didn’t gut the fish. Must have had my words wrong – maybe asked him to cut the tongue out – or something equally useless. He probably laughed all afternoon!
After bribing mon mari with a martini he finally got the fish into a form suitable for cooking. I found a wonderful recipe and made a properly delicious dinner – worthy of our 30 euro turbot….and had enough left for two more dinners…
Thank god we liked it!
On a different note… I love big breakfasts.
Just not in the morning. But for dinner? Absolutely!
2 thick slices country ham
2 medium potatoes, enough for two
1 bell pepper, red or green
2 cloves garlic
1 tbs olive oil
1 tbs vinegar
Cut the potatoes – the long way, first in half, then in half again. Now slice (the short way) about 1/8″ (.25cm) thick. Roughly chop the pepper and onion. Mince the garlic. Cut ham. Heat 1 tbs oil in large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add potatoes, pepper and onion and fry until nicely brown and done. Use a spatula stir and flip vegetables occasionally.
In a separate skillet fry the ham until starting to brown, then add to vegetables. Top with poached eggs and serve.
Eggs: Fill a large skillet with water. The water should be around 1 1/2″ (4cm) deep, (2 inches (5 cm) would be better). Heat water over medium-high heat. Add vinegar. When water is softly boiling poach eggs: one at a time break egg into a small saucer. Swirl a spoon in the water where you will put the egg – off to one side. When water is swirling drop egg into center. With slotted spoon try to keep the white together. Do next egg. With regular spoon scoop some hot water over tops of eggs. Poach for 2 – 3 minutes or until white is set but yolk is still very soft. Remove eggs with a slotted spoon and put on hash.