I never understand why some people say, “I don’t want the head.”
For me that’s the best part of the fish. As I stand at the market and stare at rows of them lying still on a bed of ice, with gleaming scales, shades of grey and black and the occasional pink of a snapper, there is something marvelous about their glassy eyes. And although they look alike, I can almost always pick one that seems to stare back at me defiantly, refusing to accept it’s fate yet.
“Yes, I want the head.” I tell the tired woman who is donning a fresh pair of disposable gloves.
At home I rip the plastic bag apart and pull out the chunks of cut up fish. I fill a bowl with water and place them in, watching the water turn yellowish red. They’ve left a thick vein in the center of the flesh. I slit it with my knife and watch more blood flow down the white flesh like a little tributary, dissolving in water and disappearing through the sink and out the drain to join the ocean.
The oil is hot and crackles as I place the pieces. A tail, stomach and head, a misaligned jigsaw puzzle. The head is the challenge, with its odd shape. I need to keep shifting it so it cooks have it cooked evenly, a well worth trouble. At one point the base of the head is on the pan and steam is pouring out through an agape mouth. It’s really quite magical. The eyes are getting roasted nicely and look like little golden peas. Once the pieces are fried, you’d never know they were once all connected.
I poke around and pull out the bones. As I move the head around, the golden eye falls out, leaving a socket crater.
I stare at it.