Food & Drink » Glenda Bartosh on Food

Fish unlimited – not

But you can find unlimited ways to prepare and enjoy them



"There is no end to the counting of our finny blessings and the blessings they bring, for the fishes in the sea are innumerable and the ways to cook and eat and relish them are almost as many.

"But if relish them you would, never boil fish. Poach them in a simmering court bouillon or steam them. Hardly ever fry a fish – that operation takes an expert hand, and more fish are spoiled than bettered by it. Sauté it instead.

"Broil a fish basting it often with butter. Bake a fish, in wine or milk or anything except water. Sauce the fish, for a suitable sauce will point up its distinctive sea flavour.

"And one fine day, take time to catch a lively leaping trout in some sun-dappled stream and drop it with loving haste into a sputtering skillet over a campfire. Watch the silver skin turn crisp and golden and the translucent flesh whiten to a melting softness.

"Eat that fish, brother fisherman, and you will know what it is to eat fish…"

So, brother fisherman, what do you say – or can even think to say – to such smarmish purple prose?

No, it’s not from an overwrought sophomore’s first attempt at romancing Nature, but from the introduction to the chapter on cooking fish, now ironically called "Fish Unlimited", in the1974 edition of The Gourmet Cookbook .

To deconstruct for a minute, I guess we should, indeed, count any finny blessings we find these days, given that 90 per cent of the world’s large oceanic fish like tuna, swordfish, marlin and cod are gone. In fact, it’s downright depressing to think that only 30 years ago the fishes in the sea were still mistakenly thought to be innumerable.

But not to get too bogged down in the eco-difference a few sorry decades can make, it’s good to see all things fish are at least reasonably alive and well at Whistler, as participants in the recent annual fishing event will attest to.

And despite the outdated tone of The Gourmet Cookbook’s intro, there remain myriad ways, as described, to do justice to fish. The old trout-in-a-frying-pan-over-crackling-bonfire-with-not-too-many-mosquitoes-and-a-glorious-sunset is still a favourite. Just flour ’em up and fry ’em in butter – a damn fine way to eat fish.

Near the wet and slippery coast it’s easy to forget that for tons of Canadians land-locked in prairie provinces, pan-fried trout (first choice) or jackfish (otherwise known as pike) or pickerel were, until recently, about the only way you’d get good fresh fish.

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