I stopped at the store on my way home from work. My kids, just having spent the week with me, cleaned me out. My fridge, freezer and cupboards empty. Despite my best googling and pintresting I couldn't find many recipes with canned pumpkin, garbanzo beans, black olives and sardines. I would have to stop at the store on the way home.
Many times, in my post divorce laziness, I have opted to not cook and get something pre-made, to go or delivered. Since this was a new me and a new year, I thought I might stray from the comfort of the deli cases and venture into the unknown.
The fish counter was quiet that night. Just me and the friendly fishmonger, Darryl, stocking the jumbo- previously frozen- shrimp.
"How are you doing tonight ma'am?" There was an easygoing feeling I got from him.
"Oh, I'm just fine. I'm looking for something to cook tonight." I smiled
"Well, we have these king crab legs on special. Really fresh." He pointed to a massive display of legs going this way and that in every direction on a bed of fresh crushed ice.
"Too much work my friend. I'm lazy." I replied.
"Well, why don't you look around and let me know if anything catches your eye." He said gently.
Just as the words came out of his mouth I spotted it.
FRESH Chilean Sea Bass!
$23.42 per lb.
I stopped and just stared at it. Large, flat, pristine filets. They were pretty, not disorganized as their case-mates the King Crab legs. These were light and lady like. It was as if this Chilean Sea Bass looked down on the other fish that occupied space next to it in a mean girls kind of way. If those arrogant filets knew how much history they held for me.
The first dinner he made for me when we were dating was Chilean Sea Bass. I had cooked for him before, but now, he got to show off his skills in the kitchen. Maybe it was a special occasion? Maybe it was a hunch that I'd love it? Maybe he thought he could seal the deal with it. Like some sort of secret weapon he possessed. I don't remember, it was so long ago. He often spoke of his time in High School when he worked at the meat/fish counter of his hometown market. He knew how to cut it, to prepare it with seasonings just so...it would melt in your mouth. He talked a big game, but how could I call him out? What the hell did I know about cooking fish? Fish Cooking was something my mother did. All mothers did it and usually the results turned their children off fish for many years. No, no, I was not a fish maker. I freaked out making chicken in those days. Salmonella was all the rage then.
He had me sit at the table, poured some white wine, lit some candles and presented his signature dish in front of me. It was a stunning presentation. Meticulously plated, perfectly balanced. A light, almost flakey fish that still looked like a thick steak-like fish, like tuna or salmon. The Bass was lovingly laid over a nest of potatoes with green beans carefully criss crossing the top of the nest so the fish would lay just so. It was the best fish I had ever had. That night we talked about our wedding, kids, traveling. All of the things that you talk about with the person you want to marry. The Chilean Sea Bass had truly won me over.
She (the bass) would make appearances throughout our marriage. She would come in different forms, taste slightly different as the preparations got more daring, more risky, more playful. Is that roasted red pepper I see? Did you stuff these with langostino (the poor mans lobster)? Is there wine in this? I taste lemon? What he did on each variation, I never knew. It was his secret. I only knew how it made me feel. Warm. Cared for. Loved. Exactly what he wanted, what he needed me to feel. Had I known then what I know now, I would have called her out for what she truly was. She was an apology Sea Bass.
'I'm sorry I was not faithful, here she is just for you, extra special with burre blanc sauce! You deserve it! '
Stop. Why did I have to ruin it like that? A perfectly beautiful memory. I somehow manage to make it about that. I have always been my biggest threat when it comes to making up stories to justify behavior. But what blindsided divorced lady over 40 doesn't do that?
No. Not this time. New Me. New Year. Why should sweet lady Chilean Sea Bass be left in the dust in this relationship? She did nothing wrong! He and I got the divorce. She shouldn't have to take sides.
"I found it. The Chilean Sea Bass. Could I get one of the smaller filets?" my finger was tapping the glass case.
"Of course you can!" His service was so great. I wish there were more of my fishmonger everywhere I went. "How do you make it? I've never had it before, is it good?" he asked.
"Is it good? Oh my gosh its the best fish I've ever had. Light, like butter...." I stopped rather suddenly. I realized I had no clue how to make it. "Actually, I don't know how to make it. I've only ever had it made for me." It happened. Just then. My eyes started to leak. It was not the normal kind of cry where you can feel the tingle first in your nose. I just had tears streaming down my face, hot and drippy.
My fishmonger noticed me. He didn't miss a beat. He put his gloved finger up, disappeared for a moment and came back with a box of Kleenex. He thrust it towards me.
I took a tissue, then another then another. This noiseless non-stingy cry was new for me. This type of cry? In this situation? What is wrong with me? This was kind of like a wedding cry without the smile. More of a funeral cry where ladies gently dab their eyes with a kerchief trying to be proper.
"Thanks" I said with a smile "I mean you'd think a lady could go to the store and pick up some fish without having a breakdown!"
He kept about his business and smiled. He wrapped my fish and put on the price tag. He reached over to hand me the fish but kept it in his hand as I went to take it.
"It happens a lot more than you'd think. You aren't the first and you probably won't be the last. You will find a way, the strong ones always do. You will cook this fish and it will be the best fish you have ever had." He let go of the fish and gave me a wink.
I gathered the rest of the ingredients I thought I might need. Green Onions, mushrooms, more butter? I was going rogue and I was going to do it. If my fishmonger believed that much in me, I could certainly take that pride and make it my own. I bought my ingredients and drove home.
As for you, wise- beyond- your- years- fishmonger- Darryl, I cooked that fish.
I was a tiger that night in my kitchen. Throwing in this, trying out that, things he never even thought of! I was in new territory and I was KILLING IT! That sweet Lady Chilean Sea Bass. Welcome back sweet lady. You were missed. I smiled while I ate. This is MY recipe. This is MY secret. I did this. I am warm. I am cared for. I am loved.
It was the best fish I've ever had.
Sweet Lady Chilean Sea Bass
1 Chilean Sea Bass Filet - it's for you make it as big or as little as you want- it can get spendy though. My filet referenced in this story was 14$ but worth every penny
1 Green Onion, chopped
A Handful of Mushrooms, sliced - more if you like mushrooms- sliced if you are lazy
2 Tbs Olive Oil
2 Tbs Butter
2 Shakes of Garlic Powder
1 Shake of a Random Seasoning -all purpose- I found one in my cupboard. Go crazy!
1 cupish of any kind of White Wine- or wine variation you have any lying around that is going to go bad because you can't drink it all yourself. I used Prosecco that was half full and sitting out for 3 days after opening. It did the job.
Make sure your saute pan is big enough to fit your sweet lady. Set your burner to Med High. Throw the butter, olive oil, onions and mushrooms in the pan. Let the mushrooms get covered in the butter (they are also best eaten that way). When they are covered put in your filet and cover. I did 3 minutes per side twice. Math majors will say that is 6 minutes per side. After the first set of three minutes pour some of that white wine in there. How much you put is up to you. The alcohol burns off anyway so it won't get you drunk if you use a lot. The Bass will shrink in size. It's supposed to. It's cooking. There was some skin on mine but I cut it off after it was done cooking and it came off easy. I took the filet out with some tongs, put it in a bowl and it split in half. I poured what was left in the pan over the top and there you have it...your own new little secret. Enjoy.
Thanks for listening friends.
With much love,
A Horrible Mother