A Fishy Story in Two Parts
Thumbelina, Thumbelina, tiny little thing
Thumbelina dance, Thumbelina sing,
Thumbelina, what’s the difference if you’re very small?
When your heart is full of love, you’re nine feet tall!
featured in the biographical movie Hans Christian Anderson (1952)
Once upon a time there was a little girl. A very little girl. When she was born, even though she was full term, she weighed so little that they kept her in the preemie ward. I’d like to say that she grew, but she didn’t. Well, she did, but slowly, s-l-o-w-l-y! By the time she was two years old the local Tipat Chalav (well baby clinic) was threatening to call a social worker and charge me with abuse because they thought I wasn’t feeding her. When she was three years old our family doctor became concerned because she wasn’t really gaining any weight. By the time she was four she was the size of a two and a half year old. Tiny little thing. I didn’t even need a stroller for her, I would just carry her around in my pocket.
We actually had a wonderful family doctor, who suspected that she might have a growth hormone deficiency (she did). The winter she was four he sent us off to get a bone age x-ray taken, and then on to an endocrinologist. The x-ray clinic was in the same neighborhood as Machaneh Yehuda, Jerusalem’s outdoor market. It was early in the morning and as we got off the bus I thought it would be fun to walk through the market just as it was waking up for the day. Man plans, God laughs.
I held Sassy’s hand as we walked through the market. At one point we passed a fish stall. The vendor stuck this huge net into a pool of live fish, scooped up a few, and tossed them on to a stall of ice, the freshest fish of the day. One of the fish did not take too kindly to being removed from his pleasant bath and tossed on to a freezing tableau, and literally leaped (do fish leap?) off the ice and straight on to Sassy. I don’t know what kind of fish it was, but it was HUGE, bigger than my little girl for sure. It hit her full on, and knocked her over on to the cobblestones. To add insult to injury, it lay there on top of her, floundering around, rubbing it’s fishiness all over my tiny baby. She lay on the ground screaming, the fish lay on her, flopping, and I was in so much shock I just watched it all happen in slow motion. Mr. Fish Vendor came out of his shop and removed the insulted fish, hurling it back on the ice. And my Sassy, she just screamed and screamed and screamed. Tiny she was, but she had the lung capacity of an opera diva.
Since then, if she knew there was fish on her plate, she never ate it again.
Fast-forward 19 years. Sassy has just become engaged to her superhero, Sabraman. It was time for The Dinner. You know, the two sets of parents get together and strategize about the wedding. Sabraman is half Yemenite, half Turkish. Did I cook a meal that was familiar to his parents (something they see on their table everyday)? Or do I showcase my own ethnic background (Hungarian/Lithuanian)? I came up with a third solution. Sabraman, in spite of his boureka-eating, hilbeh-dipping, meaty upbringing, had a thing for lasagne. So I’d make him lasagne. But I thought that would be too outre for his parents, so I made some fish as well. Yes, I know Sassy was going to have a fishy fit at the table, but she behaved herself well, since she’s a fan of my lasagne.
So there we sat around the table, the six of us: Mr. and Mrs. Sabraman, the future Mr. and Mrs. Sabraman, and me with my Ju-boy. I proudly served dinner: lasagne, a green salad, a chilled bottle of white wine, and my fishy creation — Hungarian/Thai Salmon. The elder Sabraman couple just sat there and stared. What is this stuff? Is she going to poison us with her Ashkenazi food? It was a tense two minutes or so. Sassy was trying not to stare at the fish, Sabraman was dying to dig in to the lasagne but was waiting for his father to help himself first. Finally, in the awkward, cricket-chirping silence, Sabraman stands up, serves his parents and then his bride-to-be and says in his superhero voice, “It’s good, eat!” And eat they did, they even had seconds. That night, Sabraman was also my hero.
Before I post the recipe, just a tiny post-script: Sabraman and Sassy are now living in London, and when I spoke to my daughter last week she said to me, “Here’s an update for your blog, I eat tuna now!” I know this is Sabraman’s doing, he’s my superhero too!
I originally posted the recipe on Recipezaar back in 2001, but it’s undergone a change or two since then. Below is as I make it now.
- 1 (3 lb) salmon fillet
- 1/4 cup Hungarian paprika
- 1 large lemon, washed and dried
- salt and pepper to taste
While the salmon is still partially frozen, cut into serving pieces. I usually serve this as an appetizer so the pieces are smallish squares.
Place the salmon in a large pot and cover with water.
Toss in the paprika.
Zest the lemon with a Microplane zester and toss the zest into the pot. Cut up the balded lemon into approximately 6 slices and toss that into the pot as well. Add the salt and pepper.
Bring the whole thing to a rolling boil and let cook for 20 minutes. Yes, I know you are supposed to gently poach salmon, but listen to Miriyummy. Don’t treat the fish delicately, it can take it, don’t worry.
Turn off the heat, let sit for about 10 minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon.
Chill for at least two hours and serve.