Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Gift from the Sea

stripped bass 1
It wasn't my intention to write another "foodie" related essay this week. My blog is after all about gardening. But then again, it's also about tradition. So when fate intervened this week and presented me with an interesting topic to think about, one having nothing to do with gardening, I felt in a way compelled to write about it.

Here's the story: My spouse, Marc, is an attorney here in Massachusetts. He's built from the ground up his own practice specializing in immigration law. Marc works long hours, is often stressed to near his breaking point, but at the end of the day, enjoys being his own boss. He's developed strong relationships within the hardworking immigrant community near where we live, which includes many of his own clients. That being said, it wasn't a complete surprise that he phoned me at work Tuesday morning to say that there would be a 15-pound striped bass waiting for me at home. You see, one of his clients caught this big fella the night before off the coast of Gloucester (the setting for the book, "The Perfect Storm," for those of you not from this part of the world). As it was conveyed to me, the client was very grateful for all of the hard work that had been done on his behalf, was immensely proud of his latest catch and very much wanted Marc to have it. So how could he refuse such a gift? He couldn't.

stripped bass 5
fish stock
Fish stock: what was left of our friend, celery,
carrots, onion, thyme and bay leaves

While it had not dawn on me at first, I soon realized how significant and meaningful this fish was to this client, and ultimately, to us. His was a culture that truly valued food. After all, how many of us take the time out to catch our next meal? I couldn't help but wonder, what better way is there to express your gratitude, praise or well wishes to someone else than by offering them the gift of your most prized food? Maybe if we'd been alive a few decades ago or were living in another part of the world, the answer would have been more blatantly obvious, especially if such an act came at the expense of feeding our own family. But alas, the finer and more traditional lessons of social etiquette are often overlooked in this day and age. I'll have to remind myself of this the next time a special occasion comes along and I find myself heading to the mall.

pan seared sea bass
Pan-seared Striped Bass, Homegrown Pak Choi, Mushroom Risotto

After I arrived home from work, I opened the refrigerator door and came face to face literally with my next meal, something I'm embarrassed to admit I haven't had to do in a long time. Thankfully, he was already gutted and scaled by our benefactor, the prospect of having to do this was something I had been trying to psych myself up for all afternoon. And as I carved him up that night, I found myself thinking that what this kind client had done was something my dad (who was also an avid fisherman) would have done and did do so many times during his life. The only question remained, how do you fully appreciate such a gift? Simple. We gave Mr. Striped Bass the proper culinary treatment he deserved, shared him with our lovely next door neighbor, and toasted to the fisherman that caught him.

pan seared sea bass 3
Gone too soon.

And if anyone has any ideas on what I can do with all of this fish stock, please let me know!


  1. What an absolutely wonderful gift! and recalls life maybe a century or less ago, when the attorney or the physician often was paid by his or her client in fresh eggs or garden produce or a bushel of apples...whatever the cash-strapped but self-sufficient person was raising or growing. It also makes me think of my friends at the local Farmer's Market, a fair number of whom are retired government employees, who say the most satisfying thing in the world is to raise food that you know will nourish someone else.

    Judging by the picture, you did fair honor to Mr Bass and his provider...and spread the good feeling to your lucky neighbor, too.

  2. What a great point! I didn't even think about the historical connection! Thank you for commenting!

  3. As usual, the story and pictures are fantastic. I doubt even 2% of people have the culinary expertise you demonstrate! I'm starving now and its all because of your amazing blog. It's my #1 favorite precisely because it isn't just one topic.

    thank you for sharing!


  4. What a gift!
    BTW-You mentioned being concerned about canning and botulism. I was until I started doing it and reading about it. You won't get botulism from fruits or veggies. If you decided to can the fish stock and did it wrong--maybe. :)

    I canned for the first time last year and now I'm canning everything I can/am able. I'd recommend a basic guide like the Ball Blue Book of Canning. If you find a water bath canner with the little tool set, get it. I'm not one for gadgets just to have them, but the canning tools are really useful.

    You also don't need the whole pressure canner thing for just fruits and tomatoes. So that's another fear--blowing food up all over the kitchen--that's not likely to happen.

    Feel free to write back. I'd love to help if I can.

  5. Hi Thomas, WOW---that bass had to be some mighty-good-eatin' (as they say down here in the south). Your pictures of the plate of veggies and fish made my mouth water...

    Great client, Marc has..... That is such a needed career, to help people with immigration. I'm sure the client was very appreciative.

    Have a great day.

  6. Fresh fish is so delicious. I believe that a thoughtful gift such as the fish is the best kind to receive. That meal looked excellent - you did good! ...and btw thanks for linking to me :)

  7. Wonderful gift. Wonderful meal.
    As to the stock - it's good frozen for later uses.(I use an ice cube tray;that way, you can use pretty much what you need without waste.)

  8. Oh that looked SO GOOD! I wish I was your neighbor for completely shelfish reasons: your cooking.

    What a nice gift for Marc, you did it justice for sure! Fish stock.....well fish chowder is the first thing that comes to mind. Legal Seafood has a nice recipe. You could also use it for sauces, freezing it in small amounts as a previouse reader mentioned.

  9. Forgot to mention seafood risotto.

  10. One word:


    You're going to have to have two blogs.

    Beautiful fish. Soon you'll be giving vegetables and leaves and lemon curd from your Meyer lemons as gifts. It's really the best sort of present.

    About botulism - not that I think of it too often, but it can absolutely be caused by canned vegetables. Just be very hygienic and sterilize. Keeping garlic in olive oil can even be a culprit - it should be refrigerated.

  11. What a wonderful tale of fish and kindness. And I'm learning that a garden blog can and should be whatever you'd like it to be. Many talk about family memories and traditions. And many others regularly post recipes using their latest harvests, and these are often greatly appreciated! Like that pie recipe -- that sounds completely to die for! My blog has become a blog of anything nature-related, so it's a little bit gardening, wildlife, veggies, and organic living all rolled into one. Ok, I'm still drooling over the pie. Excellent post, Thomas.

  12. Hello Thomas;

    The striped bass story was especially current for me as we just returned from our Maine vacation. This time of year the New England coast has a number of bass tournaments but in over 30 years of watching fishermen, I never saw fish caught until this year. Bass were being caught and lost on all the tides. There were a number of happy fishermen with big smiles willing to relive their stories and display fine fish like the one you received.

    Thanks for a nice story and great pictures!

    George Africa
    The Vermont Gardener

  13. Thanks everyone for all of your great comments and suggestions.

    Marie - was thinking about making Bouillabaisse but it's a very intimidating dish!

    Kelly - I would be very lucky to have you as a neighbor! I'd have homegrown veggies out of the wazoo!

    Meredith - What you said is absolutely true. Having never really written for pleasure before, I'm slowly finding my blogger's voice.

    George - Thanks for sharing your recent experience. I didn't even know such tournaments existed here in New England. I'll definitely have to check them out.

  14. A few years ago I caught a big striped bass from the beach off of Wellfleet Cape Cod. What an experience to bring in such a fantastic fish!

    I've always been thrilled by the idea of catching or growing. I still remember the the waves and the line and pulling in the fish that day. A fresh caught bass is special. I may have to dig up old photos of my fish and post it.

    I also heard recently that its one of the ecologically "good" fish to eat. Not an over fished stock any more. As I remember, stripers and salmon are good choices.

    I have another suggestion for your stock. My favorite chowder is Bermuda Fish chowder. A different version, with lots of spice and vegetables (plus a dash or so of rum).


  15. Kathy, thank you for your wonderful comment. I didn't realize there was so much to this special fish. This experience has definitely left me with a greater appreciation for the striper.

  16. What a great story! Not only about a fish, but about people, too. We fished in Alaska this summer. One day, I had no luck at all. A man from California helped me to get my tangled line out, replaced lost hook with one of his own, showed me a good place to fish, and left one of his salmons for me. I'll never forget that. A couple of days later, I caught my 42 lb king salmon.

  17. Hey kelly rissoto is my favourite dish. Yesterday my wife cooked the rissoto. Taste of it is just superb.