Monday, April 24, 2017


Does your brain occasionally replay your worst memories? Mine does, and there's usually no warning when it happens. I could be in a great mood, let my mind wander for a second, and *BAM* there's the day my cat died. Or the day I flunked that test. Or the time I got fired from that one job. Or the time I got dumped. Or the OTHER time I got dumped. Or, of course, the worst memory of all: the time I discovered that Chili's discontinued their Margarita Grilled Tuna.

It was a total fluke the first time I ordered it. I was in one of my "perhaps I shouldn't purposely try to kill myself with every meal" moods where I forego my preferred choice in favor of something marginally healthier. I wanted my baby-back-baby-back, but instead I opted for the Margarita Grilled Tuna. Little did I know I was ordering what would become my favorite meal to date. One bite of that marinated tuna on a bed of Mexican rice with a side of black beans and I was in heaven. They still make it at Chili's with chicken instead of tuna, but it's just not the same.

That was the first time I'd ever had tuna in any form that didn't involve mayonnaise and pickle relish. I did NOT grow up in a seafood-loving home. The only time my mom ever put fish on the menu, it was usually followed by the word "sticks." And let's be honest, fish sticks are seafood in the same way that French fries are vegetables. You're just dunking them in tartar sauce instead of ketchup.

In a way, I'm kind of glad that Chili's discontinued their margarita-grilled tuna, because it made me get familiar with cooking fish at home for the first time in my life. For a while there, I was hellbent on replicating that recipe, and I'm proud to say I've come pretty close. But that wasn't the end of my fishy experiments.

Ever since I learned I could grill tuna with relative ease, I've been trying my hand at other fish. It turns out it's fairly easy to grill salmon or throw a couple pieces of tilapia into the oven. Toss in some lemon pepper or some dill, and suddenly I had the culinary confidence of Gordon Ramsey. Hmm, I thought to myself, perhaps I'm a naturally gifted seafood chef.

This false notion lasted about three weeks. If I'm a gifted seafood chef, it might help my cause if I lived by a sea. In the grand midwest, my fishy experiments are limited by what I can buy at the store, and my best choice that day was a bag of frozen salmon. "Cool," I thought. I took the bag home, filled the sink with water, dropped the bag in, defrosted a half hour, took out the first piece of salmon, and nearly retched all over the kitchen.

I expected to be holding a neatly trimmed salmon filet. Instead, I was holding what was clearly a chunk of dead fish, complete with its dead and scaly fish skin still attached. In an instant, things became way too real. I'm okay with being a naturally gifted seafood chef, provided the seafood comes to me neatly trimmed, deskinned, deboned, and in no way looking like it once led a carefree and song-filled life under the sea with little mermaids.

Why do people prepare fish this way? We don't leave tails on cheeseburgers or beaks on fried chicken. Fish skin is just too carnal. I prefer to live in constant denial that the meat I eat was ever once part of a living thing. This is the down side of seafood. Can't we enjoy the food without seeing its scales or cracking its legs and dipping it in butter so that we can suck out its meaty leg goodness like monsters?

When you think about it, some of our carnivorous habits are straight out of a horror film. As midwest dwellers, what do people from the coast always tell us? "You haven't had seafood until you eaten it fresh!" Eww. Why should fish taste better when its freshly plucked from the ocean? By this logic, fish should taste its very best when still alive and swimming. Have bears had it right all this time when they stand in the middle of the river, devouring salmon as they swim by? Gross.

This would, however, explain sushi -- a delicacy I've never been able to understand. Sorry, but a decorative seaweed wrap and delightfully geometric rice cube doesn't change the fact that you're still consuming raw, slimy fish. I, meanwhile, am the guy who just stood in front of his oven saying, "I hope I'm not undercooking this salmon."

A while back I was at a nice restaurant and ordered the ahi tuna, but the waiter looked at me weird when I asked them to make sure it was cooked through. When the waiter brought out food for our table, he said, "Here's your steak, ma'am, which our chef says is medium rare... and here, sir, is your ahi tuna, which our chef says is ruined."

Ruined or no, it was super tasty. I'm not giving up on my quest to learn about an entire corner of the food pyramid I've never had the pleasure of consuming until now. But if it comes with scales, eyeballs, heads, claws, or shells, I'll take a hard pass, thanks. I'll leave that stuff for the times I let my mind wander and *bam* remember that time I held a dead scaly fish torso in my hand? Ewwwwwwww.

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