Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Cooking Fail That Wasn't

I had a great, productive day today. I woke up in good spirits and made excellent progress on my current e-Learning project. I was so engrossed in my work that I worked an extra hour without thinking about it.

And then, without warning, I abruptly crashed into a very foul mood. I was hungry and tired and very blue for no good reason. I wanted very much to go to bed, but it was only six and I was hungry.

I drug myself away from my desk and out to the garage to check the deep freeze for something edible. I've been way too busy lately with driving for Lyft (more on that later, but no promises) and studying up on the latest teaching technologies, so I haven't made time to go to the grocery store very often. Thus, I find myself eating whatever I can scrounge up, such as peanut butter and jelly (if I've had time to grind my sprouted wheat and make bread, as well as soak, dehydrate, roast, and grind the peanuts).

So you can imagine my triumph when I spotted a package of salmon I'd bought on sale and then forgotten all about. I literally raised a fist and said, "Yes!"

Salmon is about my favorite fast food. I can cook it from frozen to pan-seared in 15 minutes flat. If I'm not feeling lazy, my favorite way to make it is with a glaze of freshly grated ginger, apple juice, apple-cider vinegar, and honey. But most days I just put a pat of butter and a squeeze of lemon juice on top and cover it with a lid.

Tonight was definitely not a honey-ginger glaze kind of night. I set the package aside while I sliced some carrots and zucchini and threw them into the steamer to give them a head start on the fish.

When I finally I tugged the frozen salmon out of the cellophane, I was shocked and slightly disgusted to see that it still had a tail. And fins. What the heck??

In my joy over snatching up the last package of salmon at the unheard-of price of $4.89 per pound, I had overlooked the fact that it was a whole salmon rather than the fillets I'm used to cooking. The head, at least, had been cut off, but it still looked disconcertingly like a slaughtered animal. I shuddered at the sight of a small blood clot against the exposed back bone.

Following some instructions I'd found on Google, I rinsed the fish under cold water for a couple of minutes to remove the ice crystals, and then I patted it dry with a paper towel. Next I coated it in avocado oil and wrapped it in foil. But then I got confused. There were way too many conflicting instructions about cooking whole, frozen salmon. Should it be covered, or uncovered? Should I add some water to the pan? Should I cook it at 400? 450? Or maybe at 325 followed by a few minutes under the broiler? And should I cook it for 15 minutes, or 7 minutes per inch of thickness? Should I find a ruler and measure it, or just eyeball it?

A bigger concern was a recipe that mentioned cleaning the guts thoroughly. Apparently, fish guts can make a permanent stink in your oven. I was horrified. I've never cleaned a fish in my life, and even if I knew how, how could I clean a frozen fish? I eyed the exposed cross section. No guts were visible. But how would they have gotten them out, without cutting the fish in half lengthwise? I sniffed the fish tentatively, but there wasn't much smell because it was still rock solid.

I felt my heart speeding up, over a $4.89 dinner. I wanted very much to just crawl in bed and pull the covers over my head, but my stomach was growling pitifully.

Shrugging, I put the covered fish in the oven at 450... then immediately turned the temp down to 425 and opened the foil packet slightly. After seven minutes, I turned the fish over. It was still solid on the bottom side.

Another eight minutes later, it felt lukewarm. I turned it again and set the timer for 10 more minutes. After that, it looked cooked but didn't feel hot enough. I pulled out the thermometer I use for making yogurt and inserted it into the thickest part of the fillet. I rubbed my eyes when I saw the reading: 52 and dropping. I pulled it out and poked yet another hole in the other half of the fillet. It read 42. Obviously, the thermometer was malfunctioning. I jammed a finger into the meat, leaving an ugly mangled spot. The flesh felt mildly warm, certainly warmer than 42 degrees.

I put it back in the oven and tested the thermometer under hot water. It did seem to be working, but I boiled some water to be sure. If my memory serves me correctly, it was 2 degrees off at the boiling point; it said 210. Hmm.

I pulled the fish out and tried to slice it in half so I could finish it with my usual method of pan searing. A shower of black and silver scales settled onto the cutting board, along with some shredded pink flesh. I've never filleted a fish, and I was in no mood to try it now with my dull knives. (I've never learned to sharpen knives, either. Four years after the divorce, they've gotten pretty blunt. Maybe I need a boyfriend with a knife sharpener.)

After another consultation with Google, I decided to unwrap the fish and cook it in the steamer. I emptied the carrots and the zucchini, which had long since turned to mush, into a bowl and covered them with foil. Now I was downright mad. This was turning into a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad night.

While the fish steamed, I called my sister Amy, both to cheer myself up and to find out about her appointment yesterday with a new primary care physician. She said she liked him, and he seemed very knowledgeable, and he is writing up orders for her to resume her physical, occupational, and speech therapy. (She had been discharged from her wonderful rehab center on December 30 for insurance reasons.)

I made small talk for a few minutes and then confessed my dark mood. Amy reassured me that we all feel down sometimes, and that's nothing to worry about. She advised me to eat my dinner and go to bed.

I told her it might be a while before I was done with dinner, and explained the sorry salmon saga. She said she'd never cooked any sort of salmon, so she couldn't offer any advice. I sighed.

When the thermometer read 145, I removed the salmon from the steamer and let it rest for eight minutes (two minutes shy of the prescribed 10). Then, with trembling fingers, I used a knife and a fork to gently ease the meat off the spine and ribs. It was shockingly easy. The bones all stayed with the spine. The meat looked kind of dry, probably overdone, I thought. But there was no fish-gut stench, and the meat looked mostly like the kind I usually cook, just a lot more mangled.

I squeezed some lemon juice on it and sprinkled it with salt and pepper. I pulled out my mushy vegetables and topped them with a pat of butter, which didn't really melt because by now they were hardly even warm. I thought about microwaving them but felt too lazy to remove them to another plate; I certainly didn't want to microwave my overdone salmon.

At last, I sat down at my empty table and said a quick prayer that God would kill any germs that hadn't been cooked to death. And then I took a cautious bite. Oh. my. goodness. It was delicious! It was moist and tender and flaky. Just perfect, even without honey-ginger glaze. It was so good that I quite probably will buy whole salmon again, on purpose.

The carrots were edible, but I turned my nose up at the zucchini. CiCi later fished my rejected veggies out of the sink, and based on the way she growled over them, they must have tasted mighty fine to her. But I'm sure she would have much preferred the salmon skeleton and skin that I was hemming and hawing over at the moment.

About those fish bones.... Apparently you can make a nice seafood stock from fish bones. But that fish carcass looked gross. Gross. Besides, I was just done. So I scraped it all into a bag and pushed past a salivating CiCi to put it in the freezer until trash day.
Think I should post this along with my frozen salmon recipe, if I can remember it? 

 The leftover meat wasn't too pretty either, but I can't wait to have it for lunch tomorrow.

As I write all this out, though, I'm imagining that I have a sore stomach. I sure hope I didn't make myself sick from fish guts and/or undercooked germs.

I've decided to pull the covers up over my head and wake up in a better mood. Tomorrow is another day.

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