If you had asked me of my fish preferences a year ago, I would have told you I stick to purely Swedish or tuna fish in a can. And if it was tuna, it better have been camouflaged in a mixture of mayonnaise, relish, and chopped up sour green apple in between slices of tomato and Swiss on my Bruegger’s bagel. Now I realize that the irrational fish fear of my childhood was most likely only correlated with the fact that the scent of raw fish made me want to vomit.
At a young age, I mastered the art of discreetly mashing the fish on my plate with the bottom of my fork to make it seem like I had tried it. For the times when my grandmother demanded that everyone watch as I try the fish that my father had meticulously prepared, I knew the trick of placing a miniscule piece of it in the side of my mouth until everyone looked away and I could strategically spit it into my white doily napkin. When a family member would question how I liked this particular fish, I would crinkle my eyebrows, purse my lips, and muster up the words to describe my dislike towards the lean meat. My grandfather would rationalize that my taste buds simply still hadn’t fully developed, and my brothers would smile and yell, “More for us!”
It turned out that my fear of fish extended to other sea creatures as well. When it was time for our bi-weekly trip to the grocery store with our mom, my brothers and I would always dart to the back of the store to see the live lobsters swim around their tank. Although it was fun to watch them try to fight with their pincers rubber-banded together and their whiskers flailing in every which way and direction, the thought of consuming these critters sent a shiver up my spine.
And then there was Christmas. Every Christmas Eve during cocktail hour, everyone in my family snacked on fresh shrimp (everyone in my family, except for me, that is). I could confidently concoct the special cocktail sauce by the time I was seven, though I never dipped more than a finger or the occasional cracker in it. Once I even tried convincing my family that I was actually allergic to seafood so as to avoid tasting the shrimp, yet it was a faulty story because there was one exception to my fish fear: freshly fried oysters. It all started during Homecoming Weekend at the SAE house at my dad’s alma mater. I may not have known what a fraternity was, or even been able to read Chicka Chicka Boom Boom yet, but I could down a lot of fried oysters nearly as quickly as the current brothers. I sat atop my father’s shoulders and would tap his head when I needed another oyster fix. He would dutifully put down his beer and slather another Saltine with oyster and ketchup. It was the life. Every now and then I still crave these oysters, although the thought of getting on my dad’s shoulders gives me nightmares of spinal injuries and visits to the ER.
I grew older, and the time between my dad’s graduation and the present day increased as the frequency in our visits to the SAE house steadily decreased. I still didn’t like fish. A couple of years ago on a trip to Costa Rica, my family encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone and order a local fish at a restaurant that was known for their piscatorial specialties. My heart dropped to my stomach when they brought out a platter with a cooked fish complete with gooey eyeballs and whiskers. I tried to be polite, but I couldn’t even pick up my fork. Luckily for me, my dad offered to trade plates with me, so I ended up eating a delicious mix of rice and beans. Let’s just say ordering a whole cooked fish at this point in my life was twelve steps too far out of my happy little culinary comfort zone.
I ate my first shrimp three months ago. As soon as my teeth sunk down into the juicy steamed piece of shrimp, I realized my stupidity. After nineteen years of refusing to eat most things from the sea, all I could think was, “I. Missed. Out.” I immediately wanted another piece of shrimp; however, there was a slight issue: how does one take the tail off of a shrimp? Oh yes, the embarrassment. My brothers shot me the typical teenage boy “Really?” face, and my mom ordered that one of them teach me the proper way to prepare a bite of shrimp. Don’t worry—now I can get the tails off before you can grab the cocktail sauce from the fridge.
Now that I know what I was missing for the majority of the first two decades of my life, I figure I have some major catching up to do in the fish world. After living with my grandparents for a handful of weeks this summer, I decided to prepare dinner for them on my last night as a special thank you and goodbye. Despite a few recipe reading and food-processor leaking mishaps, both the gazpacho and salmon turned out to be great, healthy, and tasty successes. Here’s to trying new things fish! Bon appétit.
Source: Loosely based off of Pioneer Woman’s recipe
Yield: approximately 8 servings
Ingredients: 2 cloves Garlic, Minced, 1/2 whole Red Onion, Diced, 1 whole Large Cucumber, Diced, 5 whole Roma Tomatoes, Diced, 1/2 whole Large Red Pepper, Diced, 1/2 whole Large Yellow Pepper, Diced, 1 whole Zucchini, Diced, 2 stalks Celery, Diced, 1 dash Salt To Taste, 1/4 gallon Tomato Juice, 1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil, 1/8 cup Red Wine Vinegar, 6 dashes Tabasco, 1 dash Black Pepper To Taste, Avocado, Sour Cream, Cilantro (optional for garnishes)
1. In the bowl of a food processor or in a blender, combine the minced garlic with half the red onion, half the cucumber, half the tomato, half the zucchini, half the celery, half the tomato juice, olive oil, red wine vinegar, sugar, Tabasco, and a dash of salt.
2. Pulse until all ingredients are blended well; mixture will have a nice speckled, colorful texture.
3. Pour into a large bowl and add the rest of the tomato juice, and half of the remaining onion, cucumber, tomato, zucchini, and celery. (Reserve the rest of the diced vegetables for garnish.)
4. Stir mixture together and check seasonings, adding salt if needed. Chill soup for at least a couple of hours; soup needs to be very cold! The longer it chills, the more time the flavors have to blend, and the stronger the gazpacho becomes.
5. Remove the soup from the fridge and stir. Check seasonings one last time. Ladle into a bowl and garnish with remaining diced vegetables, a sliver of fresh avocado, sour cream, and cilantro. You can also place a grilled shrimp on the top and serve with grilled slices of bread if that suits your fancy.
Citrus Baked Salmon
Source: loosely based off of Food Network’s recipe
Yield: 4 generous servings
Ingredients: 2 tablespoons freshly chopped dill, 2 tablespoons sun dried tomatoes, in oil, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 orange for slicing, 1-2 lemon(s) for slicing, 2/3 cup white wine, 4 6-8 oz Salmon fillets
1. Preheat oven to 375ºF.
2. In a large 9 by 13 shallow baking dish place 1 lemon slice with 1 orange slice side by side so you’ll end up with 4 groups. Each salmon fillet will have its own bed of citrus.
3. Season each fillet with salt and pepper then place each salmon fillet over the 2 slices of lemon and orange.
4. In a small bowl mix the dill, sun-dried tomatoes and tomato oil.
5. Divide mixture on top of the salmon fillet, then drizzle with the wine.
6. Place the baking dish in the oven and cook for 8-10 minutes (*Note: it took me a lot longer to cook because I used 1 large fillet instead of 4 mini fillets.)