During the Lenten season, everyone is supposed to give up something that he or she likes. It’s a small, symbolic sacrifice that reminds one of what the Christian martyrs sacrificed by giving up their lives for Christ.
Since I’m clearly not the stuff of which martyrs are made, I always give up something for Lent that I’m not too keen on anyway, like sweets. I suppose I should feel a twinge of guilt, but so far......nothing, nada, rien.
Anyway, a few Friday nights ago, my husband and I were at Il Gattopardo (“the Leopard”), a terrific Italian restaurant on 54th Street in Manhattan.
Among the specials on offer that night was a whole branzino, which, the waiter assured me, would be filleted at tableside.
“Lovely,” I said. “I’ll have the branzino, and I’ll fillet it myself.” He looked a bit startled and gave me that “Are you sure you know what you’re doing?” look (a look I know very well), and my husband quickly added, “My wife is French. She knows what she’s doing.”
“Oh, very good, Madame” our waiter replied, looking ever so relieved.
Serving a whole fish to American diners is simply not done. Maybe it has something to do with the eyes staring up at them or the fear of swallowing a tiny bone and choking to death.
Or..…maybe it’s just that Americans don’t like to work for their food the way the French do.
For me, it’s a bonding experience. Whether I’m lovingly pulling off the leaves of an artichoke, one by one, and dipping them into the sauce, cracking a crab with my bare hands or carefully and methodically deboning my fish, I am one with my food.
I have my own method of filleting fish, taught to me by my Father, who knew a thing or two about fish.
|Le Vieux Port de La Rochelle|
He was born and raised in La Rochelle, which sits right on the Atlantic Ocean. The sea was in his blood, and the bounty it provided was daily on my Grandmother’s dining table.
His Father was the head chef in a prestigious local restaurant, but he always said that it was his Mother who was the superior cook.
Whole fish in American restaurants are filleted either in the kitchen or at tableside and then presented to the diner. It’s often a lovely presentation.
But, I prefer to do it myself, as I go, so to speak. Here’s how I do it.
|Posted by of HunterAngler Gardener Cook on September 3, 2010|
Step 2: With my knife, I cut lengthwise from head to tail, right down the center to loosen the flesh while still leaving the center bone intact.
Step 3: With my knife, I carefully peal back the skin on one side of the fish from behind the head to the tail.
Step 4: With my knife, I separate the flesh by pulling it away from the center bone, being careful not to disturb the tiny bones.
At this point, the waiter or Maitre d’ in an American restaurant will repeat the process on the other side and carefully lift off the head, center bone and tail, which should come out easily in one piece, and set it aside.
He will then sauce the fish and present it to the diner. My Father taught me to leave one side covered while I eat the other side. This ensures that the uncovered flesh remains juicy and warm until I’m ready to enjoy it.
Step 5: Once I have enjoyed both sides, I then remove the head, center bone and tail and enjoy the flesh underneath, which is still juicy and warm.
If you’ll pardon the introduction of sweet into a savory discussion, it really is du gateau….a piece of cake.
With a little practice, you can master it in no time….trust me. You'll never eat a whole fish any other way again. I taught my Irish-American husband to do this in one easy lesson, and he took to it like……..well…...a fish to water.
Of course, he gets the same “Are you sure you know what you’re doing?” looks from startled waiters when he insists on filleting the fish himself; but he just says, “My wife is French and she knows what I’m doing.” ….point à la ligne….end of discussion.