Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollectionsFixme

FORKLORE

A Fishy Problem

May 28, 1997|CHARLES PERRY

Fish run in schools, so you can often bring in a big catch--bigger than you could possibly eat right away. Furthermore, most potential fish-eaters don't live right at the shore. So throughout history, preservation has been more necessary for fish than for cattle and poultry, which, after all, can just wander around until it's convenient to eat them.

You can fry the fish up and put it in an acid liquid, such as vinegar, that will stymie the microbes. People make this kind of pickled "soused" fish in lots of places. Or you can pickle it in brine, though it won't be as tasty.

For long-term, large-scale preservation, the traditional answer has been to dry the fish out. The quick and easy way is to salt it. The longer, harder way--which has been popular when salt was expensive--is just to hang the fish out in the breeze and dry it that way.

But unsalted fish has to be really, really dry to avoid spoilage, which is how it got its name, stockfish: THe first part is basically the word "stick"; it's as hard as a piece of wood. Traditional stockfish recipes often start out with pounding the fish with a mallet for an hour or more to reduce it to a manageable state. In the medieval Middle East, only small fish were preserved this way, and they were often sold ground to a powder (si^r mathu^n).

But however you preserve it, fish will quickly get the "fishy" odor, because cells containing protein-digesting enzymes are breaking down in their flesh and their body fats are turning rancid (because unsaturated fats oxidize faster than saturated--sorry about that).

There are only two possible answers: eat really, really fresh fish or learn to enjoy the fishy smell.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|