13 March 2011

World’s Easiest Recipe for Baked Fish

Step 1: Begin

In response to the outpouring of enthusiasm for my previous recipe, I am pleased to offer my readers a series of step-by-step instructions for another favorite Sunday treat: baked fish. While some so-called culinary experts will tell you that baking is in fact already the easiest way to prepare fish, and that any idiot could do it, I believe you will find a number of secrets, shortcuts, and surprises in my recipe, which I have developed over many years in my charming little kitchen in the heart of the French countryside.


1. Go to the market and hum the theme song to The French Chef while waiting for the fishmonger to deal with the other customers ahead of you: the little old lady who wants a nice trout, no, not that one, this one, no, you know, the one that looks like her late husband; the stout bourgeois who wants five darnes de saumon, though the fishmonger has only four, but maybe he can look in the back, plus two kilos of boiled shrimp, one kilo of raw shrimp, and “enough mussels for five people, or rather, six people, of whom one does not have a large appetite, and two are children, although one is a growing teenager, so let us say five and one-quarter people, or perhaps five and two-fifths”; and the emaciated German woman who wants only freshwater, organic, free-range, college-educated fish.

2. Try to choose a variety of fish that you can pronounce intelligibly, preferably one that is not covered in flies. When the fishmonger turns his attention to you, just point and say, “That one.”

3. Smile shyly when asking the fishmonger to scale and gut the fish, although he is giving you a look that says, “What kind of barbarian forgets to say, ‘S’il vous plaît, Monsieur’ when ordering, and yet does not know how to gut his own fish?”

4. Return in shame to your home, preheat the oven to 6, since 7 can be a little too much, and moderation is good.

5. Wonder what that smell is, and whether you should call somebody. Remember that — oh, yeah — you cooked fish last Sunday, too. Tell yourself that’s probably what the smell is. Probably. Yeah, that’s what you can tell yourself.

6. The fish should be quite firm and flexible, and extremely slippery to the touch, practically jumping out of your hands, almost as if it is still alive.

7. Poke the fish with a fork, just to be sure.

8. Re-clean the fish, removing all the guts that the fishmonger left; wash away any remaining blood, while watching it swirl down the drain like the shower scene in Psycho or, as it is known in France, Psychose.

9. Pour some olive oil into an oven pan. Place the fish in the pan.

10. Get a new pan when you realize that the first pan was much too small. Repeat the step above.

11. Decide against a third pan when you see that the second pan isn’t quite big enough for the tail, after all. Try to bend the fish’s tail so that it will fit. Decide to leave it sticking out over the rim of the pan.

12. When the oven is heated, place the second pan, with the fish, on a middle rack. Vow solemnly to turn the fish over, halfway through cooking time, so that the skin won’t stick to the pan and the fish will cook evenly; also, convince yourself that you will rotate the pan frequently, so that the fish will cook evenly on all sides.

13. Forget to do these things as soon as you shut the oven door.

14. Begin to prepare a light sauce of melted butter, vinegar, finely chopped shallots, and fresh parsley, which you will have found in your extensive readings of La Première Année de Cuisine. The recipe looks so easy, a child could do it!

15. While the butter is melting, check your e-mail. Wonder when your agent is ever going to get back to you.

16. When you smell the sauce burning, return to the kitchen and throw out the smoking remains.

17. Tell yourself that a quick squirt of lemon juice is really all that a good, fresh fish needs, especially since you have rubbed the interior of the fish with a special mixture of aromatic herbs and spices, just before baking.

18. Remember that you are out of lemons, and that by now, the market is closed, and their lemons are overpriced anyway.

19. Remember that you also forgot to rub the interior of the fish with the aforementioned special mixture of aromatic herbs and spices.

20. Check on the fish. Admit wearily that it is too late to rub the interior of the aforementioned special mixture of herbs and spices, since you also forgot to mix it in advance, but it probably doesn’t matter, since you also forgot to buy fresh dill and/or parsley, and even if the market were still open and you ran really, really fast, it would still be too late.

21. When the fish’s eye begins to milky white, not unlike your Great Uncle Louis shortly before his cataract surgery, slam the oven door and let bake for another ten minutes, leaving the kitchen in disgust.

22. Check Facebook for any new pictures of your godchildren and the New York Times website for all the latest headlines, weather, and sports.

23. When you smell burning fish, return to the kitchen. (Optional)

24. A favorite dish among many vegetarians, the fish will be thoroughly baked when its eyeballs are exploded, its skin bubbling, its fins completely charred, and its mouth agape as if in horror while its lips peel away from its tiny grinning teeth.

25. Remove the fish from the oven. Ask somebody else to bone the fish for you, because it is really much too complicated.
(Optional: If you are alone, try going out into the street and asking a complete stranger whether he would like to come home with you and bone your fish.)

26. Serve and eat.

27. Remember to stack tiny bones neatly on the side of your plate, rather than spitting them into your napkin, tossing them on the floor, or choking to death on them.

28. Spend an hour or so scraping the remains of the fish from the bottom of the pan, then wash, rinse, and dry.

29. Realize that the heat from the oven has screwed up the thermostat again, and the house is now freezing, smoky, and fishy-smelling.

30. Wonder whether Julia Child — or Mrs. Paul or the Gorton’s Fisherman, for that matter — ever had these problems.

That was easy, wasn’t it?


ChouChou said...

Ha! I love it, and after reading this I will never attempt to bake fish again...Also, "ask a stranger whether he would like to come home with you and bone your fish?? REALLY??"

Anne said...

This is a recipe which captures my cooking style to a "T" (pronounced Tay, of course, says she with a bow to the august author of said recipe.

TGaskins said...

I dream of the day when I can go to the fishmonger and request fresh-caught fish...except in my case, I will want the fish scaled, gutted, beheaded and tail removed. Yummmm...and on second thought, I think I'll walk by the fishmonger and go all the way to the restaurant that specializes in seafood. They'll do everything, and all I have to do is eat.