The Green-boned Fish Battle

At the end of the last post I hinted that there was going to be fresh fish. The fish I had in mind was Sea Needle or Garfish (which isn’t the same thing as Gar) which I had already seen in the grocery store at the point of writing that post. I (correctly) estimated that it would be too time consuming too cook fresh fish that day, since I had a rather tight deadline to get dinner ready.

The garfish is very seasonal and can usually only be caught for a few months in spring along the Swedish coasts. It’s especially popular as food and game fish in Denmark. It’s main odd feature beside being long and thin and having a sharp beak is that it has green bones. All this is pretty compelling to a food geek like me and the downright silly price of 49 SEK per kilo (7 USD) which is cheaper than herring, pretty much closed the deal. Other good reasons are that it’s caught fairly locally and thus not transported too far, and that it’s not on the IUCN  Red List (yet).

With such a fine bargain made I scurried homeward, going through tons of ideas in my mind. The sheer amount of ideas was probably the reason for biggest mistake – deciding to fillet the garfish. I’ve only filleted mackerel before – a very easy fish to fillet, whereas the garfish is tricky to fillet on account of being two feet long, an inch thick and filled with bones. Let me advise you right now to consider cooking garfish whole unless you’re a master of filleting. Filleting three average-sized garfish took me an hour, yielding one reasonably bone free fillet (fillet number 5 – I got lucky) and five disasters. Those green bones are quite sturdy and probably won’t come off with the cooked meat if cooked whole.

The plethora of ideas I had meant that I wanted to use my ill gotten and mangled fillets in more than one way – 800 grams of fish had left me less than 300 grams of fillet. I decided to cook it two different ways anyway, which means plenty of steps left before this post is over…

Firstly, classic fried fish. One of the best ways to have most fish. In a fit of culinary joy I had completely forgotten that I nine years ago solemnly promised to never attempt to deep fry anything on a stove again and proceeded to make a beer batter. I’m sure that I’ll get bashed by porter-drinking friends for using the weak variety but there simply was no time to go to a liquor store to get the real stuff. Beer, salt, flour and egg is all you need to make a batter. The proportions will probably need tweaking regardless of what I write down, so I won’t give any.

It should look like this anyway. Moving on.

Fish is usually accompanied by chips, which in turn are accompanied by vinegar. I chose instead to make the classic Swedish lightly pickled cucumbers (just like the radishes mentioned a while back). Salt, sugar, dill, spirit vinegar, cucumber and also water.

And here’s why the Swedish name for the condiment in question, directly translated, is ‘press cucumber’. It’s often served with dishes of veal or boiled beef, but I think it matches fish quite well too.

I also wanted to try my hand at blackened fish, since it seems to be a highly interesting cooking method (although apparently not considered a real classic Cajun technique). For that one needs to whip up a seasoning mix. Paprika, powdered chili, ground mustard seeds, white pepper, black pepper, thyme, oregano, salt, garlic powder and cumin. Ideally there should also be some onion powder in there, but the grocery store was all out of onion powder, which is a bit curious.

Here the poor little fishies have been throughly covered in the seasoning and are having a well deserved rest before its time to blacken them.

The reason for that is that one wants to put the sweet potato chips in the oven first.

And also get some spuds going for the deep fried fish. I decided to have new potatoes instead of the expected chips in order to lower the total amount of grease.

So, for some reason I had chosen to use not one, but two of the scariest cooking techniques that can be perpetrated in an ordinary kitchen. Not having a fryer, I put an inch of oil in the smallest frying pan available in order to keep the sheer amount of oil needed to a minimum. My trusty thermometer wouldn’t measure above 130 degrees Celsius so I had to pretty much wing it, since we didn’t have any white bread to perform tests with either. The amount of attention needed to succeed meant there was no time for mid-process photos.

If deep frying without specialized equipment is a bit scary, it’s nothing compared to blackening, where the seasoned fish is dipped in melted butter and thrown into a  literally red-hot pan. Not only is a pan that hot a bit unnerving, but there’s a lot of smoke involved. After the first fillet I had to hold the pan at arms length out the window to avoid setting off the smoke detector. Naturally I didn’t dare take my eyes off the pan and therefore did not reach for the camera either. On a side note, there’s a Swedish dish that’s quite similar – ‘sotare’ (chimneysweep) – salted herring either broiled until blackened or, traditionally, fried directly on a a wood stove hotplate.

To sum up, we have here the result of three hours hard work; Blackened garfish with sweet potato chips, a garlic and carrot mayonnaise thing, lightly pickled cucumbers and beer-battered, deep fried garfish with new potatoes and deep fried capers. The green bones are easy to spot, but since most of them were just short stubs, they made the eating very hard. Also, the sweet potato chips may look good, but by accidentally putting them in the oven before it was properly heated they only baked soft and mushy instead of getting any kind of crust. Still tasted fine though. The following lessons were learned: Don’t attempt to fillet garfish unless you’re very very good at it, don’t deep fry unless you like cleaning stove tops, don’t do blackening indoors unless you have a truly powerful hood fan and don’t put sweet potato chips in an oven that isn’t piping hot.

Most important of all is perhaps to not do both deep frying and blackening after spending an hour unsuccessfully filleting the fish. It’s very tiring.

Next time there’s probably something a bit easier, like boiling water or ordering takeaway.

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