Fresh Catch

FreshCatch_Color350When anyone asked me why my Daddy owned a Boston Whaler, I could recite his answer. We scalloped and fished on the Gulf of Mexico, but we also fished on Howard’s Creek off the Appalachacola River. Our little boat thrived in both salt and fresh water.

Owning that boat meant we spent a lot of weekends on the water. I loved punting hidden scallops into my net, unhooking feisty fish, but Dad also insisted I learn to clean my catch. I could pry open a scallop and scrape its milky white muscle clean out of its shell. And except for catfish (I was afraid of their defensive dorsal fin) I could clean and gut just about any fish.

At eighteen I left home—and fishing—behind. Since then I can count on two hands the times I’ve baited a hook. Last Sunday when my friend Ray Ryan called to say he had just caught a blue fish on Long Island Sound that morning and did I want it, my childhood fishing memories bubbled to the surface.

I’ve known Ray for twenty years. He’s one of the few people I know who seriously hunts and fishes. When Ray calls to say he’s just gotten back from pheasant hunting the birds are still warm and do I want any, the answer is always, Yes!… with slight hesitation. Yes, because they’re delicious. Hesitation because I’ve got to gut and pluck them.

And as much as I grew up cleaning my catch, it still pains me to pull warm entrails from a newly lifeless creature. I know this occasional sacrifice is good for me however—a reminder of what someone else does for me every single day.

So without hesitation, I accept Ray’s fish offer. It doesn’t matter if it’s been cleaned and gutted. I want it. Can I eat it tonight, he asks. “Yes, I can eat this fish tonight.” Can he drop it off this afternoon? “Yes, I will make sure I’m home to receive it.”

Now it’s my turn to ask a question. “Is the fish cleaned and gutted? Not yet, he says, but he’ll bring it over, and we can do it together. Perfect.

He arrives with fish, filet knife and steel, newspapers and a clean rag. Within a few minutes, his work is done. (OK, so I just watched.) There sit two skinned fillets that I season simply with oil, salt and pepper and grill. Meanwhile I make a sauce—extra-virgin olive oil with capers, cornichons, parsley and shallots.

As David and I savor each bite, I declare it one of the best fish I have ever eaten partly because it had been pulled from the Sound just that morning, but mostly because I had witnessed the sacrifice and was grateful.

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  1. susan says

    Great fish story, Pam! My mouth is watering and I’m dying to try the drizzle — mmm, maybe tonight!

  2. says

    I love this. I think it’s so important to recognize where our food comes from, and the sacrifice it takes to get it onto the plate. It always bothers me when people don’t want to touch their food during the prep phase, or (God forbid) eat meat off the bone, like fried chicken or a t-bone steak. There is nothing wrong with eating meat from the bone, and for me, it reminds of where that food came from, and that you should give thanks to that animal. Overly sterilized plastic packaging just adds to our disconnect between farm or sea and table.

  3. says

    Yea, I’m not gonna lie. Not a huge fan of killing, skinning, de-scaling or pulling warm entrails out of animals. I saw it a lot in Malawi and that didn’t bother me so much, but I suppose we all need that experience of actually doing it. It’s important. We need to know where our food comes from, and as Amber points out, we need to bridge the disconnect between farm/sea and table.

  4. says

    I smoked legs & thighs for a group of friends and aquaintances a few weeks ago. I was astonished when a couple of these women (ok not 30 yet) said, “It tastes really good, but ewwww I don’t eat bony,skin attached, fatty things…” My reply, never one to mince words, was that they would go VERY hungry at my house.

    My hubby hunts and we raise chicken and quail. My job is to celebrate the life sacrificed by making the food taste extraordinary. I kinda like the challenge!

  5. says

    I so appreciate this post because, for me, it really gets to the heart of where our food comes from and the sacrifice that is necessary to put food on my plate. I had a light bulb moment not too long ago, where I asked myself, ‘could I kill a living creature to eat?’ And I have to say, that after deep thought, I mean really deep thought because I have been a meat-eater my entire life, the answer is no; I just don’t have the stomach for it. But it was also the very first time I made the connection between ‘saying grace’ before a meal and putting food in my mouth. If I had to rely on myself to kill the animal, I’m certain, I’d be a vegetarian. So I’m thankful for both the animal and the people who make the sacrifice. Thank you for the great post!!!

  6. Julie P. says

    The fresh catch blue fish from The Sound made for a great story and a melt in your mouth memorable dinner, right? I’ve always enjoyed preparing fresh fish for a meal….but the de-boning and/or cleaning out the inerds…uggg…….guess I’m a real whimp! Loved reading about your fishing & scalloping in Gulf of Mexico, years ago, Pam! Julie P. ~

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