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This is the third installment of Sunday Dinners, a biweekly column from our own Tom Hirschfeld featuring his gorgeous photography, stunning Indiana farm, and mouthwatering family meals.
Today: Against all odds, Tom finds the fresh fish of his dreams.
Fish isn't exactly what comes to mind when I think of Indiana. While we do border Lake Michigan — I have been on great salmon fishing trips there — seafood still isn't what readily comes to mind. Well, maybe frog gigging, but that is a whole different animal. (No pun intended.)
Still, that shouldn't keep a man from dreaming, should it?
On any given day at the grocery you can catch me walking the terra cotta-tiled promenade in front of the glass case filled with sparkly crushed ice, staring dreamily at black fishnet bags of oysters and mussels nestled into their frigid bed, taunting me. The fresh fish cast seductive glances my way, but more often then not what I see shows signs that it was ridden hard and put up wet after the catch. It is just not for me.
I used to work with a lot of fish. My first restaurant job had me checking and cleaning sixty-plus pounds a day, which isn't all that much in the restaurant business but was an experience for which I am grateful. I can recognize high-quality, clean whole fish with confidence; I know the differences across species and which ones I like best to eat.
So I don't give up. With the glass slipper in my pocket, I keep looking for my Cinderella. Sometimes I catch a glimpse. I stop. I stop long enough for the young fishmonger with the smile like a great white shark to zero in and ask if I see anything I like, anything he can show me.
Something has caught my fancy so intensely that I barely hear what the fishmonger is saying. Looking into the case with one hand on the grocery cart, I bend over for a closer look. The other hand is in the air pointing into the distance with a tapping motion as I mutter something in a voice of shock about when this fish came in.
My eyes are locked on hers. They are damp, wide, and glistening. I've found my diamond amongst the chunks of coal. Noting my interest, the fishmonger slides the beautiful whole mackerel onto a red cafeteria tray as if he is showing me an engagement ring. If he hadn't offered I would have asked. This is one gorgeous mackerel.
He sets it atop the counter. I move in close and inhale deeply. Oh my. It is the unmistakeable pristine smell of the freshest ocean. I really don't need to go any further but out of habit I poke my finger softly into the thick of her side. She gives a little and then the indentation disappears. Perfect.
When I get home I open up the brown paper wrapper and she is every bit as beautiful as I remember. No buyer's regret here.
Both of my girls take an interest, so I set the fish on the bench for them to get a notion of where their food comes from. Whole fish is a great way to do this — I am amazed that with each passing day I see more whole fish at the market.
My girls love oily, omega-3-laden fish like salmon, sardines, and anchovies. Little Lynnie watches with intensity as I filet the fish. Everyday she is becoming more and more interested in cooking.
They will love this.
Mackerel with Fennel and Onion Sofrito
4 six-ounce mackerel or fish filets
1 fennel bulb
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1/2 cup dry white wine
3/4 cup fresh tomato pulp
1/3 cup nicoise olives, chopped
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
2 tablespoons currants
pinch of fennel seeds
See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.