Last weekend Scott and I went to the coast for the night. I had been having an uncharacteristic jones for the hubbub of Seaside and its bumper cars, corn dogs, caramel corn and salt water taffy, but we couldn’t find a room there and so settled for Astoria. A couple of hours of walking around Seaside and taking in the delicious smells of childhood was enough to sate me, and the crowds made me glad for our reservation in the sleepy history of Astoria.
Our hotel was adjacent to the marina, and if you wanted to spend ~$200/person and 12 hours on a cloudy sea you could partake of a charter fishing trip for tuna, salmon, halibut and/or dungeness crab. Even better, you could just walk down the pier and buy fresh albacore from a dude on his boat for only $1.50/lb. Having had some foresight, we had packed an empty cooler and bought an 18-lb schoolie from the guy.
“You want me to fillet it for you?”
“Nah, I think I can handle it,” I say smugly, having seen that one episode of Top Chef where the Quick Fire Challenge was to fillet fish. Why, oh why am I such a macho asshole when it comes to this type of shit? You know damn well I’ve only filleted one whole fish my entire life – a 1 lb. store-bought tilapia. And I ended up cutting my hand on its dorsal fin in the process.
“I can do this, though”, I convinced myself. So with my ever-necessary swig of liquid courage, I took to the porch with my chef’s knife in one hand and my steel in the other and set forth to butcher this motherfucker.
Ah, look how the eyes shine and the skin glistens! After hauling this bastard out of the ice, I really wished I had had the dude leave the tail on, for lack of any other handle (it wouldn’t fit into the cooler totally intact, alas). I slid it onto the newspaper and began.
I began at the belly, ignorant of the fact that I would destroy the choice belly meat by slicing open the abdomen. I see a shiny pile of wet viscera and am surprised when it doesn’t totally gross me out. I slide my bare hands into the cold guts and sweep them out. I decide it will be hilarious if I pile them onto the “escorts” section of the newspaper and have Scott take a photo (my hands were too bloody to snap it myself).
Doesn’t that make your dick hard?
I finally get the head off and all the guts out and then the flies and yellowjackets start swarming. I toss the fish back into the ice and wrap up the mess in the newspaper and haul it to the trash.
Flash back to last winter when I am pacing on the porch smoking furiously wondering what the fuck I am going to do with this dead thing I plan to eat.
Google is oddly unhelpful when it comes to tuna butchery. I do, though, know a little about fish anatomy. Tuna, like all vertebrates, are bilaterally symmetrical. This makes things slightly intuitive. But unlike fishes like salmon, they have a cross-shaped bony structure, like their ribs are perpendicular to their spine. So I started at the side where the skin goes from bluish to all-silver, and poked in my fillet knife until I felt bone.
Sliding the knife along the rib line (in stuttered, chopping movements instead of the correct, sleek slicing motion) I get from the head end to the tail. Next I poke in behind the head at the spine and slide my knife along the vertebrae (again, with Michael Meyersian grace) until I have freed the loin. Repeat three times. I have four mangled loins and enough scraps to fill a saucier.
I poached the scraps in olive oil (per Scott’s brother’s suggestion – he evidently fucked up many a tuna while working for McCormick & Schmick’s) for later use. I dumped the skeleton into a stock pot with some mirepoix, bouquet garnis and a sprinkle of peppercorn and fennel seed to make what ended up being about a million gallons of fumet.
Last night’s menu:
Seared albacore (rare) w/S&P
Salad of shaved fennel and zucchini, new potato and fresh corn with blood orange/thyme vinaigrette (corn and zucchini from the garden)
Shiru maguro with wasabi and mushrooms
Cold soba with dungeness crab (oh yeah, we bought a coupla those too) scallions, black sesame oil, ginger and miso
The rest has been frozen because I can’t stand the smell of fish blood in my kitchen any more. We’ll eat the poached stuff on a nice salade nicoise later this week when I’m too lazy to cook after the gym.