Wednesday, June 22, 2011

something fishy

Michael devoted previous posts to fish, but I feel compelled to continue the conversation. Please excuse the excessive use of simile in this post. Send your questions, comments or concerns to or stinking comment.

Fish is food. You can eat fish. Like the banana, which tastes banana-y, fish is fishy. Perhaps fishy is a poor term, since it has the unfortunate existence as a euphemism for something untrustworthy, but I stand by this statement: fish is fishy. Perhaps it's important to distinguish between good fishy and bad fishy. One is delicious and the other is suspicious. I'll let you guess which one is which.

I have heard many versions of this question, but here are two samples:

"I don't usually like fish. Do you think I will like this (insert fish dish)?"

"I don't like fish. Would you recommend the (insert fish dish)?"

It's like trying to find out the best way to kill yourself if you aren't suicidal. My response rarely goes beyond this:

"The (insert fish dish) is lovely. Perhaps you'd prefer the steak. Medium well?"

It's like trying to walk into a bear cave when you know you do not like getting mauled by bears. It's like asking someone to play your favorite song, but specifying that it should only be played at a low volume while somebody screams.

A rundown on the person who orders this way: not being sexist or racist, but she is a white woman of any age under, let's call it sixty. Her friends are foodies or are people who enjoy eating in nice restaurants. Everyone around her raves about how this or that is so great!, like the bouillabaisse or the brodetto or the (insert fish dish), and she feels left out for the lack of maturity or whatever-it-takes to like fish. She has had one or two great experiences with seafood, but it was not fish. It was most likely un-offensive shellfish like farm-raised shrimp or lobster (lots of butter!) or crab legs. Put the word "scampi" after anything she did like and you've got the right idea. Even when the (insert fish dish) is something as approachable and not-fish-like as fish can be such as halibut, I am still hesitant to serve her anything other than the steak.

I'm out of words to describe it, so I will quote another food writer, A. J. Liebling from Between Meals:
The reason that people who detest fish often tolerate sole is that sole doesn't taste very much like fish [...] They prefer processed cheese because it isn't cheesy, and synthetic vanilla because it isn't vanillary. They have made a triumph of the Delicious apple because it doesn't taste like an apple, and of the Golden Delicious because it doesn't taste like anything.

Conclusion: don't be afraid of taste, and more so, please don't require someone to recommend something you think you will not like. This is a requirement for the home cook, not for the food service professional, your very own drunk waiter.


  1. I admit that I fit the stereotype, and I have asked that question on a number of occasions.

    On the bright side, by trying more (insert fish dish)es, I am developing a taste for fish, so not all is lost.