Anything but Ramen: Fish and trust issues

Food columnist Aaron Pellish on what happened when he fought through his skepticism and cooked a salmon fillet

I’ve never been much of a fish eater.

Actually, I think the first time I ever ate any fish besides canned tuna was two years ago. There are a couple reasons for this. The first is that my brother is allergic to fish, so when I was growing up, our family made the effort to not senselessly kill him for the sake of a seared halibut. The second is that I don’t really know too much about fish, which means I’m not sure how much I can trust it.

Unlike meat, with which I am heavily familiar, fish has a set of properties and rules that I have absolutely no clue about, which makes me afraid to try and cook it because I might slip up and ruin my fish, or eat a bone or some weird fish tendon that I was supposed to pick out. The prospect of cooking fish had me highly paranoid, to say the least.

Nevertheless, my friends convinced me to try and cook some salmon fillets and see how they turned out. I went to Walmart to try and find some, but my trusty, faithful grocery palace didn’t sell any unfrozen salmon fillets. I was already on edge about making fish, but the fact that Walmart didn’t sell fish was … well, fishy (I tried to hold off on that joke for as long as I could, but I’m hopelessly defenseless to the charms of terrible humor).

I headed over to Hy-Vee, but I felt like I was cheating on Walmart. It felt like “Beauty and the Beast,” except instead of Belle falling in love with the Beast, she decided to have a casual fling with Gaston and ruin my childhood. It felt sloppy and disloyal, and I truly loved Walmart, so I grabbed two salmon fillets and a gallon of Sunny D and got out as fast as I could.

When I unwrapped my salmon, I was immediately confronted by my lack of experience with fish. I turned the fillet over and saw a sheet of grayish flesh on the underside of my salmon. I asked a friend of mine if she knew that fish came with the skin still on. Her response? “Fish don’t have skin. They have scales.”

I probably wouldn’t have argued with her in any other circumstance, because that sounds like common knowledge. But when she said that, I was literally holding a piece of fish with skin on it. She had basically insisted the world is flat while staring at a picture of Earth from outer space. But her stubborn ignorance comforted me with the knowledge that it is quite natural to not know anything about fish, and with that knowledge, I was able to see my fish-cooking adventure in a new light.

Motivated by my newfound excitement to bound into the previously unknown world of cooking fish, I threw some salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, olive oil and lime juice on each fillet and threw it on a skillet.

When I realized that was all I needed to do, I felt petty for working myself up so much over two pieces of fish, but also content by the simplicity of the process. The fish cooked in about 10 minutes, and I spent that time continuing to argue with anyone who would listen about whether fish had skin or scales or both.

By the time I had sufficiently won the argument, my fish had cooked to varying degrees. I had no idea about what a properly cooked fish was supposed to look like, so I pulled the fish when I became too impatient to let it cook any longer.

I was pleasantly surprised by how good the fish was. I took some of it and made a little fish taco with some cheese and a tortilla, and was even more surprised by how much I enjoyed that. But I was the most surprised by how simple fish was, and how easily I overcame my qualms about cooking and eating fish.

I’m glad the majority of my emotional attention will now be redirected from distrusting fish to writing sweeping romantic love letters to my sweet, sweet Walmart.

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