My Korean tutor took me to the asian market one day to go shopping. While shopping we picked up a package of croaker – three whole, salted fish. They are smaller fish, but we noted that they were a lot bigger than the tiny little fishies we got in Korean restaurant. Hmmph. Anyway, I was told to rinse the fish, heat some oil in the pan and fry the fish straight up as is. Sounds easy enough, especially considering I’d never worked with a whole fish in my life.
I pulled the fish out of their saran wrap prison and rinsed them as directed. The fish were firm feeling, which may be from the fact that they were salted. I looked at the hot oil in the pan and back at the fish in my hand. Just throw it in? That’s all you do? Suspiciously, I eyed the fish. No knife marks on its belly. Was this fish…fully intact?
Just follow instructions, I told myself, and added the fish to the pan. I set the timer for three minutes and stared at it. I felt kind of mean, with the fish staring at me and everything. I flipped it and set the timer again. It was starting to resemble the pan fried fish I’d eaten and enjoyed at the Korean restaurant. Two points for me. Then…the belly kind of swelled and split and…I could see the innards.
That was it. Apparently I’d screwed it up somehow but I was not about to eat it then, after seeing it’s intestines in the pan. I felt bad as I dumped it, since the fish died for nothing.
I turned back to the other two croakers and decided I was going to gut them. Having never gut a fish before, of course I dove right in without instruction or research. I actually did a decent job on the first one even though it was a little creepy. Meanwhile, Bill did an internet search on fish cleaning and came back with a few tips for the last one. With two gutted fish ready to go, into the hot oil they went.
Flipping a whole fish is a bit of a challenge. I was trying to use tongs and it worked ok, but if I do this again I’m going to want a more efficient tool. Something that will hold the fish together better. But amazingly enough, I managed to get both fish cooked and onto plates.
I was a little nervous. I looked at the fish. He looked back, almost like he was irritated. You’re an idiot, he had to be thinking. What did I do to end up in your house?
Tentatively, Bill and I each took a bite. That’s good, we agreed. Really good. Mmmm. I ended up devouring the whole fish with a fork and my fingers like I was starving, then looking around to see if Bill was going to eat all of his. He did. Dangit.
Traumatic? Yes. Educational? Of couse. Turning something simple into something complicated? Most definately. Worth it? Yeah, baby. That’s some tasty croaker!
One thought on “How I learned to stop worrying and love the fish”
Nice article – a bit of a tip for you to make it not as traumatic in the future. You can employ this same technique with croaker, sea bass, scup, etc….
Always gut the fish as soon as you can and leave the head on. Sounds like you learned how to do that. Scale the fish – there is a scaling tool for 1.99 at Walmart that works beautifully. When you are ready to cook the fish, try this: where the guts were, stuf the fish with cilantro, onions or scallions, a hot pepper or hot pepper sauce if you like sipcy food, cut up limes, S&P, and Caribean Jerk seasoning. Tie the fish up with cooking twine and put on the grill with the fish in a “swimming pose”; that is with the belly down and the head up in the air for about 10 mins. This way all of the flavor from the cavity of the fish infuses up into the flesh. After 10 mins. or so, paint some olive oil on both sides and lay on each side on the grill for about 7 mins a side. It is always amazing to me how the flavors are “pushed” into the flesh of the fish. You know the fish is done when it’s eyes go white. (gross I know) But it is delicious and to eat, it must be “picked at”. It is a very satisfying, “The World Provides” experience.