In my last post, I mentioned a distraction that had been keeping my fingers away from the keyboard and the blog uncharacteristically quiet. Now the time has come to admit to the cause of my recent period of silence- Yes, brace yourself, the rumours are true; I have indeed, through absolutely no fault of my own, accidentally become a Fish Monger.
Not entirely what you imagined, hey? Well me neither. I think it is pretty fair to say that if you had asked a snotty-nosed, metal-mouthed, bespectacled young me (yup, I was an attractive child) what I wanted to be when I was a grown up; Fishmonger would not have exactly been top of my list.
But, as destiny would have it, I have somehow, sort-of become exactly that. Yes, the young me would have stuck her tongue out at 5am starts (who am I kidding, I still have to restrain myself), rolled her eyes at the white overalls and green, floor length, oilcloth apron. She would have probably stamped her feet at the constantly freezing temperatures, ice and sharp fish bones, and, I don’t blame her, almost definitely have had a major temper tantrum in the bread aisle of Tesco’s over the uncanny way that fish makes the sleeves of all jumpers smell, bizarrely, of wet dog.
But, it has happened. So, in the words that I never imagined I would utter (particularly not to my hairdresser, as I was forced to last week), but that have become a sort of mantra to my present existence- “If you smell fish, it is probably me...”
Now, let me explain- I haven’t been involved in a swashbuckling kidnap to become the bride of a fish-loving pirate, nor have I tripped and become trapped in a net at Billingsgate Market; the corner of which my professional path has turned of late, is purely coincidental. Having been obsessed with food (you would never have guessed right?) since I was the afore-mentioned, incredibly good-looking child; I have been in search of a career in the industry that I love for more time that I could care to mention. I have done all sorts; baked cakes in cafes, decorated 200 tarts with basil leaves, butchered a whole pig, written blog, upon blog, upon blog...But I honestly think that my recent days playing Fish-wife have been the strangest (and definitely the smelliest) to date.
It all stemmed from a very innocent sounding internship at a luxury food wholesale company. I was imagining, you know, maybe some sales experience, possibly some buying, maybe even some product development- Strange as it may seem, gutting sardines at 6 o’clock in the morning never really crossed my mind. But, as luck would have it (glass half-full and all that); the well-timed camping trip of the official Fishmonger (keeping positive), and lack of anyone to hold down the ship (as it were...) led to an aprehensive and totally inexperienced me being overalled, aproned and reeled straight in. Maybe for a couple of days, the old, un-fishy me thought? Nope, no such luck there, and after the fourth week of squeezing on my pair of very own personal wellies, setting my alarm for 4am, and considering bottles of Detol body wash in Boots, I realised that things had got pretty serious...
However, and this is a surprise to me too; it’s not all so bad. Regardless of the way that the aroma of wet fish seems to linger everywhere exactly like the bad smell it is (on the car, my clothes, even my carefully scrubbed forearms as my boyfriend not-so gleefully informed me last week..) the experience has not been entirely negative. It may not be entirely what I imagined would be making me proud 3 years after leaving university, but a perfectly filleted Bream, or a damn fabulous Monkfish loin makes me feel unnervingly happy.
And imagine my joy when I stumbled across a rainbow bounty of glistening, super fresh fishes crowning a market stall on my recent holiday in Brittany. I could not contain myself- a good ten minutes was spent confusing the stall owner and embarrassing my boyfriend by naming everything in sight, describing the filleting process and declaring quite emotionally that Hake is my absolute favourite; before the possibilities for a pretty fancy fish barbeque started to make me very very happy of my shiny new set of skills.
After getting over the excitement of a new way to gut sardines (I won’t go in to that here, there is simply not time for those kind of revelations...) I chose my victims (sardines and trout), grabbed some tin foil, the essential bottle of Rosé and started planning. Scrabbling together my limited camping ingredients, which were somewhat boosted by my boyfriend’s ingenious Tic-Tac box spice dispensers, I marinated, stuffed and seasoned to my heart’s content.
The trout, stuffed with flaked almonds, zingy lemon zest, olives and fresh basil was wrapped in tin foil, doused with white wine and crowned with lemon slices. Nestled in with the super-hot coals, it emerged fragrant and almost steamed, the delicious stuffing ramping up the flavour and adding a little bit of crunch to the soft, blush pink flesh.
The gutted sardines were marinated in lemon, garlic, dried chilli flakes (slightly Tic-Tac scented), rosemary and olive oil and barbequed for a few just a few magical, flavour boosting minutes. The punch these little beauties packed after so little effort was quite ridiculous; fragrant with rosemary, sharp with lemon and hot with chilli, they were the perfect end to a day of getting insanely sunburnt on the beach. Or maybe that was the wine?
So, you see, there was a silver lining to all that slicing, scaling and shivering- and not just as the perfect opportunity for my friends to make fish-based puns (if in doubt, Plaice is always a good fall-back option here...) And I did get to do all the good, non-fishy stuff I expected during my internship before I was handed the dreaded green apron.
However, there is only so long I can get away with telling people that I am an ‘Aquatic Surgeon’, let alone using as much washing powder as I seem to have been lately. So almost as abruptly as they began, my days spent elbow deep in fish pie mix are almost at an end. If my mind was not made up from the way that sitting in my car has become nauseating even when I am not wearing fish soaked jumpers, I very nearly completed a full back flip this morning after skidding on some Monkfish membrane. Yup, I think it is about time to move on...