Sunday, July 06, 2008

There's Something Fishy Going On...

I love going to the Farm. Being far away from everyone and everything in my everyday life relaxes me, and I enjoy the hard work I usually end up doing while I'm there.

I know that seems contradictory -- relaxing while working hard -- but it's true. And because of all the projects currently going on at the Farm, there's always something new to learn.

One recent project has been to drain the acre-sized lake. It's a pity to see the water level drop in such a beautiful part of the Farm, but it's necessary so that an excavator can come in and rebuild the dam and repair the damage done by burrowing groundhogs. It'll take a while, but in due course the lake will be even better than ever.

Of course, in a lake this size, you might well expect to find plenty of fish. So what do you do when that lake level drops down to nearly nothing, stranding a few dozen bass and bluegills?

You go fishing.

Now, you might not expect a vegetarian such as myself to be interested in such an event. In fact, you might expect me to react in a fashion similar to that exhibited by the idealistic teenagers visiting the Farm this weekend: with outrage and horror.

But no. The way I see it, if necessity dictates that the lake be drained, it's far better to appreciate the fish and keep the cycle of life on the Farm closed -- not simply letting the fish die or risking their demise in transport to a nearby lake. We had plenty of guests on the Farm over the weekend, and it only made sense to clean up the fish, have a rip-roaring fish fry, and celebrate the life, death, and rebirth of part of the Farm.

The Renaissance Man's sister-in-law, one of her college friends, and I took the fish that the "boys" caught for us, and the College Friend gave us a hands-on lesson in cleaning and filleting fish. At first, we thought we'd only have a few fish to clean, making our job seem reasonably tolerable. (And if you get squeamish, you might want to stop reading now.)

For the camping party at the Farm, they had set up an outdoor sink (hooked up to the outside spigot), so we had the perfect work area set aside from everything else. The College Friend first showed us how to hold the fish while rinsing it clean. (Yes, I wasn't too sure about sticking my hand behind the fish's gills, but it really did give the best handhold to work with the slippery beasts.)

The College Friend started by showing us the procedure on a bluegill, a fish that glimmered a lustrous silver and blue-green in the sunlight. (Turns out it's a difficult fish to fillet, not yielding much flesh, so we only had the one, switching strictly to bass afterward.)

She demonstrated the cut along the fish's spine, telling us how to feel for the bones and then to cut just above them.

After the spine cut, she sliced from spine to belly, just behind the gills in the first soft area, and then started a cut down the belly line, avoiding the organ cavity.

She also made a cut from spine to belly just above the tail -- not an easy task as it's really hard to hold onto the tail!

Then she worked the knife under those cuts, following along the top of the spine, to slice off a fillet.

As mentioned, the bluegill is not easy to fillet, and she really had to work to get even those small pieces. Once she had them cut off the fish, though, she scraped the fish meat off the skin, felt for and pulled out any tiny bones, and rinsed it and added it to a container of ice water before flipping the fish over and doing the same on the other side.

And unfortunately, that's where my camera batteries died. I did actually clean and fillet about 3 medium-sized bass, but I don't have photographic proof for you (though I do have a few witnesses). The first one was a little tricky, but I soon got the hang of it (though I'm far from an expert). I'm pretty proud of myself for learning a useful skill, and I was glad to help prepare the fish for dinner.

Oh, yes, we ate that fish for dinner -- breaded, with a hit of lemon and a kick of spice, and fried on the camp stove -- and it tasted good. Man, did it taste good!

I don't expect to practice this new skill very often, but it made for a happy crowd (well, except for those newly-veg teens). Those who shared in the feast savored the tender fish in the spicy breading and shared their thanks for those who cooked, those who cleaned, those who caught the fish, and the fish themselves.

And that was without any fishing for compliments.

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At 7/14/2008 8:14 PM, Blogger Kelly said...

mmmmmmm yummy! I haven't had freshly caught freshwater fish in eons. In high school I spent a week every summer with my friend at her family's cabin on Moose Pond in Maine. We caught rainbow trout by canoe and when I cut my first catch a smaller fish emerged from its belly via its open mouth. freaky! But delicious cooked over the campfire with butter, salt, pepper and lemon. So good!

At 7/15/2008 4:57 PM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

I don't think I've ever had fish so fresh before, Kelly... it is quite a treat!


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