The city was as wet that morning as the river Meuse itself , curling trough the city’s underbelly like a snake.
Dress code: “collar up and wallet safely tucked away”. In this industrial city, hidden under Belgium’s right armpit, people look as grey as the houses this morning. Why go there instead of sleeping in and be surprised (if you’re lucky) with breakfast in bed by your scarcely dressed (girl) friend. Well probably because you made the wrong decision, and furthermore because Liege pulls at you like a giant bland magnet.
The city is like a smelly damp pawn shop, but by instinct you know there are hidden treasure here to be discovered by you. Discovering means unknown things that need investigation to get to the bottom of. Distraction to your yet unknown goal is plentiful at the market wharf. All kinds of fluorescent Lycra clothing is on sale, some with a Damian Hurst scull on it, staring at you while passing by.
Soft pink, purple and blue little girl dresses so sweet you feel like you need brushing your teeth again. But among all this debris soft glowing gems in the distance guide your way. Golden in their glass casings are some beautiful Italian semolina breads, with big water holes in a yellow colored texture that smells like morning dew.
Not far from there a variety of Italian cheeses luring you closer, begging to be tasted. And wow ,………. what a mouthful of matured flavors does this Veneto’s “formaggio Imbriago” or “drunken cheese” give. Immediately your stomach is telling you lunch can’t be far away.
Just opposite from the “formaggio bancarella”, cheese stall, you will find the local fishmonger. Father and daughter willingly answer all your fishy questions.
I spot a pointy eely fellow, which doesn’t ring a bell with me, it is called a “orphie” in french she tells me. In English know as garfish, and the dutch say geep. This is unmistakable a ROYAL FISH, dressed in full armor, with its beak like a sword ready to snap its prey in a flash.
But like a famous Jedi knight once said; “There is always a bigger fish”, and today that’s me. The fishmonger explains perfectly how to prepare this needle fish. Unfortunately he speaks only french. With many questions remaining I drive home wondering how to prepare this bugger. First the “Murano” technique comes to mind, where the glass-makers from Venice prepare the local eel on a shovel in their glass furnace at Christmas time. Nearly chopped, salted and flavored with bay leaves this is a local classic. Although Dutch men are supposed to be all fisherman by nature, I am evolved to the level of buying my fillets from the store. So how do you approach this fellow?
If you want to do it the hard way, go for fillets, otherwise cut open its belly. Then wash the intestines out under running water, making sure to remove all the greenish remains which tend to be bitter. Its bones are remarkably blue green colored due to biliverdin being a bile pigment. But no worries here, you will be fine. With a bit of faith and a sharp knife you can also go for the fillet job. Best nail the head to your cutting board, oeps, that hurts, both for the head and the board! Then from behind the head make a skin deep cut over the middle to the tail. From the head again remove the skin and then remove the fillets from the bones. Easy peasy …….., mmmmm, ….. just try it. Do this job together with your close ones, and see it as a family bounding ceremony, take a sip of wine and have fun.
Simple is most times the best, so salt and pepper the fish, dust with flour and bake in butter. Or, better yet, dip it in a beaten egg and run it trough bread-crumbs, delicious and success guaranteed.
This is one of the few times you will have a whole animal in your hands to prepare for dinner. It always fills me with respect, holding a marvelous creature that was out in the open seas. It is a gift from the world, and paying nature respect by doing everything within our power to preserve it is key.
Days later you will find silver turquoise scales on your counter-top, small beautiful reminders of a discovered treasure.
With respect to you, being part of mother nature,
the Dutch Cook
ps. Welcome to this world little Wouter
How to clean a Garfish http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=voMdqkY_g2g
Venician Murano style preparation http://blog.glassquarterly.com/2011/03/15/glass-curiosities-furnace-eel-is-a-rareified-holiday-tradition-in-murano/