A FISHMONGER TO CALL MY OWN
I have a bit of a problem with trusting fishmongers. Of all food stuffs, fish I find, is the hardest one to buy well. Ok, I have read the books, I know the tricks about looking at the eyes, but then when I get to the fishmonger, every fish eye looks weird, I am not too familiar with what each species should cost and if they are priced correctly and, to be perfectly honest, I am not even able to identify them all.
This means that I usually find myself calling my mum before I reach the fishmonger to ask her what is good. Fish are not vegetables, but there are also some patterns in fishing, different species are caught at different times of the year because of when they are breeding, when they are too small... I do not know all the details, but I do know that I cannot choose and buy fish without maternal support.
Lately, some shops have started to include more detailed labels on the different fish, telling you where they come from and how they are caught, but it is still not the norm. This trend can help us, the seawater uneducated, so I hope it becomes more widespread, but it doesn't eliminate the 10 minutes "de rigueur" we can spend walking up and down the stalls, squinting at all the labels because we have left our glasses at home.
I have had several embarrassing fish shopping moments and all have somehow involved bonito or tuna. Once, the fishmonger was so in raptures with the tuna she had that, after having looked at everything four times and not knowing what to buy, I gave in and told her to give me a few slices to grill. I was a bit surprised to see her turn back and get a big plastic bag and start to open it. "What?" I asked myself, "since when is perfectly beautiful fish frozen fish?". I had to tell her I had changed my mind (thankfully before she actually cut the slices - only the plastic had been ruptured). I can't even remember what I got instead.
Then there was that other time, at another fishmonger (I told you, I'm not loyal to one -as with my butcher - because I still haven't found the right one to call my own and fall in love with). This time, after the 10 minutes walking up and down the stall (under the not too friendly gaze of the 50 year old fishmonger), I finally decided to be very imaginative and go for the tuna. AGAIN.
After having finally made up my mind after so much anxiety, I usually calm down and start to feel more comfortable, but this time, it was in this lulled moment that the embarrassing moment arrived. The fishmonger was cutting the tuna and I suddenly hear a 60 year old woman behind my back (you know, the ones who have been shopping ALL their lives and know what to choose every time) telling her husband how bad the tuna looks. My tuna! The one I just bought! The one I just chose among everything they had! I felt so bad I even thought about telling the guy to stop slicing, that I didn't want it, but he had started cutting and I didn't have the option any more. I kept thinking about it all night before supper, cooked it with very little care or interest and ate it thinking that it must be nearly off. Let's just say I didn't enjoy the experience.
I am not sure if the fish looked so bad, I don't think it did, but that woman's comment was just what my fish-buying insecurities needed to bring them to the fore. My confidence had been growing after a couple of successful trips to said fishmonger, but after this small comment that was not even directed to me, it was shattered.
My solution to all this fish angst has been the opposite of grown up, but very effective, I must say. As every child (and I would bet quite a few adults) do when in a low moment, I turned to my mum. It is not to just her that i turned to, but also to the knowledge that she does have her own fishmonger, to whom she is loyal, a man that has made buying fish a joy. A man she can trust.
What I do is I borrow her man every once in a while and buy my fish there. If she is there with me to help me choose, even better. I have to admit that she sometimes does the actual shopping and I just pick it up from her house. I know, it's embarrassing and I have to do something about it. I have to stop relying on someone else´s fishmonger and get my own, I need to learn how to spot the good ones (the fishmonger and the fish) and treat the chosen man or woman well so that he/she can help me along the difficult path that is choosing the right fish. I want him/her to be exactly like the one mum has - to even give me tips on how to cook the fish!
These red mullets that you can see in the pictures come from mum's fishmonger and from her came the directions on how to make them. They are quite delicious and really easy to make. You just have to salt them, roll them in chickpea flour and fry them in a pan with some olive oil until the flesh becomes opaque. Depending on the size of you fish this will take more or less time, just keep checking. The chickpea flour works great with the fish and the color of the fried fish turns golden, both because of the color of the flour and the red skin of the fish.