Tuesday, 17 April 2012
A Fish Called Wanda
Fish. I'm not a great fan of the Phylum "Chordata". Unlike Rick Stein, I don't get all dreamy eyed at the sight of ranks of gaping mouths,unblinking eyes and scaly skin. Fish are lovely, in the right environment - usually wet and watery. They're nice behind glass, or, at a pinch, in a bowl with a few pieces of seaweed and a miniature underwater castle.
I don't care what fish fanciers say; as far as I'm concerned they smell. They're also slippery creatures ready to clamp their jaws onto unsuspecting backsides innocently frolicking in the Med or off Margate Sands.
I once had a friend from school - it was a short friendship. His dad was a fishmonger. Mr Gibson, tall, a giant of a man with a glass eye. My friend lived with his parents above the fish shop. I went there once. I can still smell the faint, fishy odour that seeped out of everything in that flat. It wasn't the bracing smell of the seashore on a windy day; or the taste of ozone, mixed with fresh seaweed that caught the back of your throat. It was the smell of a billion beheaded herrings, mackerel and cod, in buckets rimmed with watery blood.
It is the only time I have accepted a bag of fish heads for the cats. I couldn't get the smell, which lingered longer than any smell had a right to ,off my hands, fingers, skin, clothes, hair and shoes. Never again would I befriend a fishmonger's wife or her off spring.
That said, I do like a piece of smoked haddock. don't ask me to explain this deviance - I just do. However, I have it extremely rarely. A while back a bought a packet of frozen smoked haddock fillets. Lovely they were - all canary yellow - just so you knew they've not seen a wisp of smoke in their fishy lives. Poached in milk, with a dab of butter, a bay leaf , salt and pepper - just like my mum made. With a couple of slices of brown bread and butter and a hot cup of tea: magic.
So the other day I was in Sainsbury's when while perusing the fish counter ( I know it's my equivalent of the top shelf in the newsagents) I saw some naturally smoked haddock. Not a whiff of yellow colouring - pure off grey genuineness. So I purchased two pieces, which I thought at the time were rather over generous.
As it happened by the time I got my smoked gems home, my fishy moment had gone off; so I placed the fillets in the freezer. And I thought no more about it.
About a week or so ago the fridge (not the freezer) started to have a faint whiff. A slight inkling of offness; nothing too telling but as the days passed the smell increased.
About this time her indoors started to pass comment. "It's not the milk, that's not off, but there's something not right in here", pointing meaningfully at the open fridge. "Are you sure you've nothing malingering the salad crisper?" " No my sweetness", I'd reply. "I will this very day clean out the fridge and ensure that it is completely decontaminated, discarding all medical specimens and olives in brine."
I was true to my word. I took everything out: cataloguing a few items to pass on to the Natural History Museum for classification. I scrubbed, cleaned, sprayed and redoubled my efforts - it was spotless!
Satisfied with my efforts I reloaded the fridge with the remaining items of food not likely to cause offence. As I shut the fridge door I drew in a deep breath of satisfaction. The Smell was still there. But now it was undisguised, not overlaid with passed sell by date pongs. And it smelt "Fish".
In a gestalt moment I opened the freezer and pulled out the frozen haddock. It and the fridge smelt suspiciously similar. I put the fish in layers of plastic bags. Still the fridge smelt. There was nothing to do but cook the damn stuff.
Fish pie! what a great idea. Out with the Delia, capers. gherkins, milk, salt and pepper and two chopped boiled eggs. Mashed up poached fish mixed with the aforementioned ingredients, covered with mashed potato, in butter and soured cream, baked for 30 minutes. What a treat!
The missus arrived home at about the time I removed the dish from the cooker. I have to admit it smelt, as I fought off five cats for a mouthful.
The whole house stank, or so my wife assures me. The front and back gardens stank, the street stank, the very air we breathed was tainted with the pong. The bedrooms, bed clothes and loo paper were impregnated with the stench of rotting fish and capers.
I forgotten the Hogger Hooter - famed throughout the Home Counties and beyond for its ability to sniff out a fart at 3 miles. The missus had inherited it from her father and she'd been training it.
These past few days have been hell. "I think the smells gone", I would mummer hopefully. "Not a chance, it's still lingering behind the curtains. That's the last time fish enters this household. I can't invite any neighbours in for the shame of it all"
As she said this she'd empty of bottle of my most favourite and expensive l'eau de toilette into the front room and kitchen. "It's of some use now at least!" she'd say opening a can of prime cut of Tuna in Spring Water for the cats.
Now when I go to the fridge I instinctively sniff the air. I swear the smell's still there, but it could simply be the imaginings of my addled brain.