Thursday, August 30, 2007

Acquired Taste ...

I had a bad formative salmon experience as a child.

My father caught one on one of him many fishing expeditions and brought it home and mom cooked it. I remember that my grandfather was over for dinner. I also remember not liking the weird pink fish.

I was not a picky eater as a child. Mom was good about making us try things, and I often wanted to try things even if mom warned me that I wouldn't like them. Like yogurt. At my grandmother's house. There it was, in a bowl, on the table, looking all creamy. I figured it would be like pudding.

GACK. That yogurt was not like pudding. That yogurt was like the flouride that got squeezed into those bite-shaped foam trays then crammed onto my upper and lower teeth with a sucky hook popped between them, the flouride which would invariably start to leak out the back of the trays and down my throat. I was always offered my choice of flavors, but holy hell, they all tasted like crap. Butterscotch-flavored crap, orange-flavored crap, bubble gum-flavored crap ...

As an adult, I eventually got into yogurt. I was on a flight, back in the days when food was still served on planes. It was a breakfast flight and I was hungry so I thought I'd give the yogurt a go. Note to would-be airborne yogurt openers: Open it away from you. Planes, they're pressurized. So, yogurt on the plane is pressurized. So, when you peel back the foil and release the pressure, you get slimed. Of course, the yogurt that day on the plane was not real yogurt. No, it was one of those fruity, chemical-laden yogurts. And these days, I'm cutting high-fructose corn syrup out of my diet, which eliminates a good part of the grocery store, yogurt included.

But back to salmon. I ate it as a kid and I thought it was yucky. As an adult, I watched in amazement in restaurants as friends ordered salmon. Seriously? Did they have taste buds? Why would they ruin a perfectly nice dinner by eating weird-tasting pink fish?

On my first trip to London, my pal Tracy and I ended up with a room on the club floor which was supposed to allow us access to the lounge on that floor. Our keycards didn't work, but we'd sneak in anyway. One night, one of the appetizers was salmon on a skewer. Tracy is one of my salmon-eating friends. I tried one of her skewers.

OK. It was OK. It wasn't great. It wasn't disgusting. But I wasn't sold.

Dave is one of my other salmon-eating friends. Like, all the time. Like, every time we go out to lunch. If there's salmon on the menu, that's what he orders. Every year, I take him out to lunch for his birthday and I've started scoping out restaurants online so I can see their menus and assess their salmon preparations. I ruled out many restaurants this year.

(This year's winner, by the by, was Blue Water Grill. I just checked the menu and am chagrined that the French green lentils and spinach are no longer available. A travesty, really. Dave ordered the French green lentils and spinach with his salmon and I nearly shoved him out of his chair to take over his place at the table. Though it would have been easier, now that I think about it, to just steal his dish.)

A few years ago, for my birthday, me and Dave and a group of friends were at Coco Pazzo Café. Dave, Mr. Entirely Predictable, ordered the salmon. He offered his plate to me, to let me try his entrée.

"Oh, I don't like salmon," I said, at which point his face contorted into total confusion as if what he'd heard me say was, "I kill puppies for sport!"

Not like salmon? How could I not like salmon? And how could he not know this about me? How had it never come up in all our years of friendship? I mean, you think you know someone, and then one day, she turns to you and says, "Oh, I don't like salmon."

Poor guy. OK, fine. I took a bite of salmon.

OK. It was OK. It wasn't great. It wasn't disgusting. But I wasn't sold.

At Blue Water Grill this year, I tried it again.

Hmm. It was maybe a little more than OK. It was maybe kind of good. Kind of. Maybe.

And then, in New York earlier this year, I ordered salmon. In a restaurant. For myself. (Dave was having surgery the next day. I thought having salmon in his honor would be good juju.) As I wrote back in April, "My entrée, in a moment of great departure and adventure for me, was the crispy salmon. I am not, not, not a salmon eater, but I ordered it in Dave's honor. Pan seared in a bit of butter and salt, I'm guessing, then finished in the oven, plated with crispy rosemary roasted potatoes and the most immense mound of garlic-sauteed spinach. (Dave, if you're reading, I ordered it medium and it was cooked perfectly.)"

And I ate every bite. And most of the spinach, too, which was quite a feat, as it was truly the most enormous amount of spinach I'd ever seen on one plate before. And I would commit a crime if that's what it took to get my hands on more of those crispy rosemary roasted potatoes again. (Happily, I'm going back to NYC next month. I think another visit to that restaurant is in order, though I can't find it online at the moment. Dammit, it better still be there.)

Mom, who prepared my original salmon experience, has also never been a fan of the fish, but had some on a cruise a couple years ago and really liked it, so she ordered some salmon from Market Day through a local school. She cooked two portions for her and dad. She didn't like it. So she gave the other two to me. And today, I baked them off. I ate one of the filets.

I wrote to Dave, "I had salmon for lunch. In my own house. I think you've converted me for good."

Dave, I may have mentioned, is guaranteed to reply to an e-mail immediately if it's about a) his daughter, b) The Beatles, or c) technology. And now, we can add salmon to the list. (Well, food in general, he says.)

He wrote back, at length, with a little salmon primer. I am his salmon initiate. I think he takes my salmon schooling very seriously, lest I stray from my newfound salmon ways.

Maybe next, I'll try anchovies.



Blogger Jeff Hunter said...

I'm a predictable steak guy. If we're going out, I'm getting a steak.

I know it's probably not good for me, but I try to do my part the other days of the month. Salads for lunch, chicken on the grill, you know, "healthy" stuff. I'll put a steak on the grill at home a couple times during the summer, but it's just never as good as what you get at a restaurant.

8:19 AM  
Anonymous girlanddog said...

Oh, salmon rules!! My favorite: Salmon with a balsamic vinegar glaze, served on a bed of lentils. I don't know what it is about the combination of flavors that just kills me!

Although, I really hate cooking salmon at home. It stinks up the house for MONTHS and whatever skillet you use to cook it will remain forever after permeated with the smell of salmon. Not fun...

Ah, anchovies. The final fish frontier. Try them in a tapenade, with a little cream cheese and olives.

HA! Can you tell I'm a foodie? ;)

9:54 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

I hear you, Jeff. My red-meat days are largely behind me and I can't remember the last time I had a steak, but there's just something about a steak in a restaurant that you can't duplicate at home. Must be all the BTUs on commercial equipment.

Girl, we are fellow foodies, for sure! If I wasn't a writer, I'd be a chef. Except the hours suck and I worked at a newspaper putting in sucky hours for long enough.

I baked my salmon in the oven. (As opposed to in the blender? Duh.) No weird fishy smell in my house. Hooray! And I love lentils. Dave's salmon/lentil/spinach lunch was about the best damn thing I'd ever eaten. And I only had one bite of each.

Never been a big tapenade gal, but hell, cream cheese makes everything better, right?!

11:19 AM  
Blogger Mercurie said...

I have always loved salmon. Catfish, too. But then I ate a lot of fish as a kid. Yogurt, on the other hand, I didn't like until I was an adult and they came out with all those different flavours.

11:48 AM  

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