Tag Archives: meat

Fish Head Curry

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The best curry I ever had was made of fish heads. It was with Jean, two years ago, at the Banana Leaf in the Little India section of Singapore. I liked this place a lot. For one thing, we ate off of banana leaves instead of plates. And instead of utensils, we followed local custom and used our hands to eat.

We started off messy, but then copied a group of businessmen seated nearby, using our fingers to roll compact balls of curry-sopped rice. I felt like a child learning to use a fork for the first time, and that was big fun.

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Notice, in the above picture, the small pile of bones on the corner of Jean’s leaf. In the USA, fish heads are what we throw away. But they are so meaty! I heard somewhere that the most tender flesh in the fish is at the back of the “scull,” and it is true. Like soup cooked with bone-in, skin-on, fatty chicken vs. soup cooked with cubes of white breast meat, fish head curry is ten times more flavorful than any other fish I’ve ever tried.

I lived around cities my whole life, where food came from the supermarket, from restaurants, or machines. We had an aversion to the whole animal approach to food. Gizzards, eyeballs, bones and blood were considered “dirty” food. We only used the breast of the chicken, the filet of the fish, and the ‘mignon’ of beef: the cutest cuts for the most proper presentation.

But now, with the whole “snout to tail” (or is it tail to snout?) philosophy gaining popularity, we are reaching back into the theoretical garbage can to reclaim lost treasures. Marrow bones have become a menu must. A new cookbook features bacon fat cookies. Headcheese is on the rise. On my first day at a new job, the chef made summer rolls with leftover crispy duck skin…they were to die for.

So, city or country; trend or tradition; Stateside or Singapore; have your fish– and eat it, too.

flower-water

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A Leg Up on Summer Grilling

48 hours ago, Jean got a call from his friend Kwaku. Kwaku was back in town after months on the road for his job, and we were both happy to hear from him. In a moment’s time, they decided that the perfect reunion would be a Memorial Day BBQ on our rooftop. I reminded Jean about his show that night, so they decided it would be an early party, and everyone (including the band) would arrive at 2pm.

After Jean hung up the phone, we devised the menu. The main attraction would be swordfish and lamb skewers. We invented these together one cold night in Soho, where I’d had my own little studio apartment. The stove there was about two feet wide, but it did have a broiler. So, to combat the winter blues, we charred the skewers – for that BBQ grill effect – and plopped Bob Marley’s Kaya onto the record player.

Now, summer was here and it was time to get down to some real grillin.’

Over Sunday brunch, I called the fishmonger, the butcher, and the vegetable stand to see who was open for the Holiday. Over giggles from the boy (yes, only food-obsessed dorkuses have these kind of emergency contacts), I found out we would only be able to get veggies, so we called Kwaku and he agreed to bring the meat and fish from Queens. Then Jean and I continued our day as planned, with a trek to Water Taxi Beach for a party (and a delicious Motz burger for me!).

Kwaku called us back and announced that he’d bought a butterflied LEG of lamb! I went into momentary cheapskate shock. “But that’s too good! I always get the cubes that go into stew!” (And then marinate the heck out of them.) I began to envision too-tender cuts of meat melting through the grill and fizzling away on the coals.

That night, I stayed up ’til 6 baking muffins, and then got up early to start the potato salad and hummus while Jean cleaned the house (I just had to put that in there so everyone knows I’m not chained to the stove while he’s kickin’ back). The first guests were Jean’s friend/guitarist Allan and his 4 year-old clone, (and the cutest kid in Brooklyn) Sid- who’d both slept over.

Kwaku arrived with the fish and the gloriously red leg of lamb. Sid sat very close by as I got to work breaking the beautiful thing down into small pieces. It seemed like a crime to destroy it, but my tiny BBQ grill (purchased to accommodate previously mentioned Soho studio) didn’t have enough space or firepower for a whole joint of any animal. My angst was alleviated by the running commentary from Sid, which included; “Is that the butt?” “Where is the butt?” and “Are you sure that’s not the butt? It looks like a butt.”

After I’d threaded the meat, baby tomatoes, onion, and fish onto skewers, I stood back and took in the scene. There was a lot of meat. Plus whole ears of corn, hot dogs, and buns to grill. And the guests were arriving. Could my tin can pull it off?

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