I got jumpy yesterday. What should've been an uneventful cooking-fish-in-the-kitchen routine left me a little shaky and in need of a Boont Amber beer. All due to a big old salmon head. We bought the ten pound local salmon from Mission Meat Market, where they kindly scaled and butterflied it, leaving the head and tail in place. My plan was to rinse and pat the fish dry, rub all over with olive oil, and liberally add salt and pepper. Next, stuff and cover with lemon slices and fennel, followed by wrapping tightly with sturdy aluminum foil. Into a five hundred degree oven for forty, make that nearly sixty minutes, and that's the making of a great salmon meal for the Litquake committee meeting at our place.
It first started to go wrong while I was washing the fish. The butcher loosened the head from the body slightly, so the head was hanging a little. Those fish eyes seeming to watch my every move. I tried to think about the other cooking steps and didn't return the gaze. Lifting the fish brought the salmon head even closer to my face. Abruptly, I said something like "Awwww!" and jiggled the fish back into the sink, wiping my hands on paper towels after. I'm not proud at this point, and hoped the fish was okay from all that moving action. Try again. I had to look at the fish to make sure it was getting a good rinse.
That fish head spooked me again as I was placing it in a hotel pan that was lined with foil and had the cedar plank on the bottom. The fish was too long for the pan, and was supposed to snuggle and lay flat to cook properly. Time to improvise by letting the fish head stick slightly up and out from the pan, resting over the edge. I figured it would still cook and any juices could drip into the two layers of foil I was about to add.
It's hard to foil a fish head when trying to not touch or look at the head. The foil touched the fish in a way that made it feel alive to my hands. All of the sudden, I had a flash back to what my parents call the "Cow Palace Fish Day" when the fish I had caught from a kiddie pool roared back to life minutes later as I proudly carried it in a clear plastic bag. I screamed and shrieked so much, people suspected my parents were kidnappers or doing something otherwise awful to me. The salmon fish head on my counter again made me do another cry of "Awwwww!" and nervously move my hands away from the fish.
Thank goodness the clock saved me. I didn't have time to be scared and squeamish and needed to get the fish in the oven (stat!) so it would be cooked in time for the Litquake guests. I tried to be nimble as I finished wrapping the tilted fish head in foil. Whew. It finally made it into the oven and seemed to be a hit. It was exciting to see the fish when it was done, because it smelled and looked incredibly tasty. The butcher told me the head would easily come right off after cooking, and he was correct. I did a wasteful stupid thing with the head. Instead of saving it to use for some other dish, I threw it out. I guess I need to do more salmon head exercises to get over this mental block.