Since the spring quarter students still haven’t arrived, I took advantage of the low traffic to work from home. Yay!
I headed off to my neighborhood market to buy my provisions for the day. At one fishmonger, I found shark meat, which got me all excited. Although ceviche, considered a national dish in Peru, is usually made from corvina (a type of sea bass), ceviche de tollo (shark ceviche) is a particular specialty of the capital city, Lima. I’ve only had proper shark ceviche a few times in my life—every time thanks to my mom finding some at her local fish market—but I’ve always adored it. When it’s properly made, it’s firm and a bit chewy, but full of flavour.
So imagine my confusion when I got home and opened my very expensive package of shark steaks and found that the meat was all floppy and soft. The shark skin had the usual sandpaper-like texture and underneath the skin was a thick layer of cartilage, but the muscles inside were so soft and squishy that they were nearly gelatinous. Cutting it up was like trying to handle half-set Jell-O™. Nonetheless, I finished making the ceviche marinade and threw it in the fridge, hoping that the acids would firm up the shark flesh. More on this tomorrow.
I also bought a fish called vieille (“old lady”; Ballan Wrasse in English), which interested me because it had pretty, brightly-coloured mottled patterns on it and yet it was only 3.50€ per kilo. I wondered what would make it so cheap. Was it full of bones? Too tough? Smelly?
That night, I roasted the fish on top of a bed of root vegetables and celery. As I was waiting for it to finish cooking, I looked up the fish on the web to find the English translation. In the process, I came upon a site that reported that some people found the flesh of ballan wrasses insipid. Hmm, that wasn’t a good sign, but I’m not one to shy away from seafood.
When I took the fish out of the oven and put the first forkful of flesh into my mouth, I immediately opened up my laptop and looked up the definition of the term “insipid.” While I had always taken “insipid” to mean something like “facile” or “stupid” or “simple,” it actually means “lacking in taste or character.” This is pretty much exactly the problem with this fish. The flesh is so soft when cooked that it doesn’t so much flake as disintegrate, it feels oily and pasty in the mouth, and it tastes like absolutely nothing. Seriously, this has less taste than unseasoned tofu. Even smearing it with gobs of super-hot French mustard didn’t do much to improve the taste. So, next time (if there is a next time), I might fillet the fish and marinate the fillets in something very, very flavourful and a bit acidic. Bleah.