Friday, February 20, 2009

Teach a Man to Fish

I have been and avid angler for most of my life. Many of my best childhood memories involve fishing with my parents and friends. Being half Bahamian helped. My mother loved to catch and cook fish. She didn't care if they were regulation size, only if they could fit in the pan. Two weekends back, the Woo and I traveled out to Roundtop to fish on the ranch that my Uncle Fuji lives on. It's his brother's ranch, Doug, who is the CEO of El Paso Oil and Gas, and former COO of Haliburton. He lives in Houston and rarely makes it out there, so Fuji takes care of the place.

I love going fishing out there. It's kinda cheating, I mean, it is a small, stocked, private lake so the chances that you will catch something tend to lean in your favor. The Woo hadn't been fishing in about twelve years, so it would be a treat to have him as my companion that day. This wouldn't be the first occasion where the Woo and I did something involving fish and him breaking some streak without it. A few years back, I cooked a meal of fresh fish for three of my good vegetarian friends who were wanting to reincorporate meat back into their diets. All three are full on omnivores now, and don't seem to be looking back. 

We got a little bit later of a start then we had planned, but with things like fishing that doesn't really matter. After a quick trip to Wheatsville for some Dale's Pale Ale, Lone Star tall boys–a must for any proper Texas fishing trip–tamari almonds, and coffee for Fuji, we headed east. Of course, any good day of fishing needs an anchoring meal to sustain such large men as they cast quarter ounce weights countless times with six foot sticks. Fortunately for us, Taqueria Alayna's was on the way out of town.

Located on Manor, Alayna's is home to the best, yes, best breakfast tacos in Austin proper. This joint is very discrete. It is just a window in a wall next to a laundry mat in a strip mall. The food is unreal; the salsa, divine. I got three tacos, and if you've ever been there, you probably think I'm insane, and I am, so glad we're on the same page here. Their migas taco is the best I've had, balancing out the egg and veg to tortilla ratio perfectly, for tacos with bacon they use huge hunks of bacon–the only kind for a really amazing breakfast taco in my opinion–and there is enough cheese to tie it all together. I fell in love that morning. It was perfect, my new love. My beautiful bean and bacon taco. I will know no other. The Woo had a chorizo taco that left his taco bag looking like it had been submerged in some unknown viscous fluid, covering the other tacos in it's rendered pork deliciousness.

After about an hour long drive out to the La Grange area, the Woo and I rolled up to Fuji's. After a brief round of salutations and introductions, we made our way down to the lake. It was a rather overcast day, but the temperature was nice; shorts and t-shirt weather. The lake is something like five acres, so there are plenty of places to try to fish, including a nice little lake on the other side of the culvert from the main lake. The last time I was out there it was the Fourth of July, and we had slain them over in the little lake. That's where I wanted to be. It wasn't long before we were catching both fish and a buzz. The beauty of Dale's Pale Ale is that it's a great beer in a can. Something that seems forbidden, but oh so right. The danger of Dale's is that it's a great beer in a can, which makes you want to drink it like that yellow fizzy stuff; fast enough to not let it get warm enough to actually taste it. Soon our stringer was looking like a meal or two.

Texas is great. 

The Woo casts.

We tried our luck over in the sluice, but no dice. They just weren't biting over there. On the way back to the dock from the sluice I found a PBR koozie that I had lost to the lake in July. Providence! Now I could drink a Lone Star tall boy with out the fear of tasting the swill. Life is beautiful. After a bit more fishing, we cleaned up our fish, filleting most of them, and went back up to Fuji's. He had retired a bit before us, and had fried up some catfish that he had caught while we were out. It was sweet and delicious, his batter impeccable. I totally envy his fish frying ability. He is a master angler, and has been fishing with me since I was just a boy. 

I'm on a dock!

A few days later, I decided it was time for me to cook my fish. Most of the fish went home with the Woo. I kept only one whole fish, the largest I caught, and planned on making one of my favorite, possibly even last meal worthy, dishes. Stewed Fish. This Bahamian stew is one the most amazing things to eat for breakfast. I know it sounds crazy to eat some fishy stew for breakfast, but it gives you energy all day. It is a fairly simple dish consisting of fried pieces of fish, a dark roux, potatoes, onions, bell pepper, a bit of thyme, salt and pepper. It is usually served with grits (hard or soft), or fresh bread and butter. I don't make this dish often, because access to good, whole fish isn't that great. Red snapper, whole for $17.99 a pound? F that. I'll wait and catch my own fish. Having done this it was time to rejoice. 

Plump and juicy?

Whole fish just tastes better. Bones do something, that I don't understand. They make the meat sweeter, the experience more visceral, naturally slowing down how fast you eat so you can carefully extract bones from your mouth. One thing–a very important thing–that I've learned from time spent in the Bahamas, is a best practice for chewing a mouthful of boned fish. We here in the States, mostly eat fillets, which doesn't really prepare us to handle even the most minor encounter with a bone. The trick is to chew fish cautiously in the front of the mouth, and force bones out with your tongue. You have to try it to really understand, but it works, trust me. If you just go chomping into some nice fish with the speed and intensity of a dog eating it's own vomit, then you may swallow a bone now and again. 

I would eat this for my last meal.

Anyway. Stewed fish. Unfortunately this batch fell a bit flat. I didn't darken the roux enough, causing both the color, and the taste to be just a bit off of what I was going for. Otherwise it was delicious, and had it been made for anyone but myself, no one would have been the wiser, as it often is with culinary mistakes. Sometimes, only you know, and as your guest say great things, you look down, shuffle some food around on your plate and think, "yeah, but I should have used more thyme..." Whatever, you learn, you move on; life is beautiful. So, now, I need to go fishing again and start over.


The Social Utilitarian said...

Great times. Good story. Life is beautiful with the Live-pile.

juancho said...

johnny, johnny, johnny, my son. have i taught you nothing? you can leave the blonde for the redhead, the redhead for the brunet; last week you were engaged to marry a yankee beer, dumped them to slink off with a bean and bacon taco that you profess to never abandon. p.s. did you remember the fresh lime juice in your stewed fish?

Flapjacks said...

no doubt. lime juice, yes, with hot peppers. not in the stew like with boiled fish...

Professor Conti said...

Guess where I went for my extremely late breakfast. Take it easy with the word-spreading, though. You're seriously endangering my already unstable nopales supply.

Flapjacks said...


Anonymous said...

hey johnny.. just found your blogg via google dogg! alaynna's sounds tantelizing... gonna have to check it out next time i'm out that way..

PassivePastry said...

I fish with weenies

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