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Posts Tagged ‘striped bass’

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I love game — venison and the like — but I have zero clue where my affinity for it comes from. My family was into watching MTV or sitting on the flagstone patio eating Carvel ice cream while my dad puffed on a pricey cigar. We were not and are not sportsmen. Living a mile from the Atlantic, we were more inclined to have our bare feet in the sand, not in camo boots and sitting in a deer blind*.

The craziest thing I used to eat at as a grade-schooler was snails. Escargot. I genuinely have no idea what compelled me to order them at a restaurant; I wasn’t exactly an adventurous kid. But I adored them.

My mom couldn’t stomach the thought of game. Just the mention of it made her turn a delicate shade of chartreuse. Once I ordered pheasant at a French restaurant and she practically retched right there on the 400-thread-count white tablecloth. I’m not ashamed to say that was part of the fun of ordering pheasant in the first place. And it was pretty tasty to boot.

Since then I’ve had alligator sausage in Florida, moose and elk burgers in Colorado and most recently, venison here in the great state of New Jersey. Loved it all. The gamier, the better. My cousin’s husband is a fervent hunter and fisherman, and we barter deer meat and striped bass for baked goods.

Again, I really need to emphasize that most people here don’t go looking for their food anywhere that doesn’t feature rewards cards. Many wouldn’t even venture to a farm — and this is the Garden State, no less. When I told my friend Brian that I buy eggs at a farm, he reminded me that Wegmans sells eggs, too.

I recently came into an old edition of Joy of Cooking that includes recipes and directions for large and small game. (The copyright page is missing; the publishing date is unknown. But in true Don-Draper fashion, the book’s first chapter is Drinks and it unironically offers several recipes for canapes, so it’s likely mid-century**.) And there are six pages devoted to game. They feature rabbit and deer along with opossum, muskrat, boar’s head, woodchuck, porcupine, beaver, raccoon, peccary — which, as everyone knows, is also called a javelina or skunk pig — and bear. There is also a page and a half devoted to airy and casual discussion of eviscerating the above, as if it’s something you’d mosey out to the woods and do before Don Draper’s cocktail party at six.

Never have I done this; never have I even seen this done. I was so unnerved at the thought of dissecting my fetal pig in Bio 101 that my college prof did it herself. But I am transfixed reading these directions.

Every piece of meat we omnivores eat comes from the big-box store’s refrigerator, wrapped in Styro and celluloid. Where is it from? Under what conditions was the animal killed and processed? We don’t know; we don’t want to know. We pluck chicken thighs from the fridge bin as dispassionately as we choose paper towels or shampoo. We cook and eat it the same way. From a connection standpoint, it couldn’t be farther from the source if was FedExed from Jupiter’s 37th moon.

Maybe explaining how to process and prepare an animal as something you and I can do, something people have always — directly — done, feels like reconnecting ourselves with our food.

Maybe — and I know I’m going into fraught territory here, but I’ve come this far — processing and preparing meat ourselves is the most honorable way to eat meat.

I came by this venison secondhand. But I can tell you eating it feels profound, even with that one degree of separation. I am reminded with every bite of its provenance. It feels right and proper. The gap closes.

As far as the pot pie recipe goes … there isn’t one. I winged it. To the farm carrots I froze last September I added potatoes and red onion. Found some wild chives on a walk to the lake and tossed in some dried wild purslane, also squirreled away from last summer. Browned the meat partway. Made a thick gravy with chicken broth, Worcestershire, malt vinegar, and hot pepper flakes. I loaded up my mom’s little 1970s earthenware pots, topped them with my pie dough, and baked them for half an hour. She’s nauseated, looking down. But I had a great, and grateful, lunch.

*Just Googled ‘hunting hideout.’ Do you sit in a deer blind or behind one? Are camo boots even a thing? I know my hunting prowess is shining right through. I’m practically Artemis.

**It’s apparently also a book that Point Pleasant Borough High School librarians have been missing for 24 years. I won’t name the perp, but I will say his homeroom was Room 207. Doing you a favor, Mr. 207. Shirley Jones’s Marian would have been all over Robert Preston’s case.

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one evening last week at high tide I took a walk on the beach. sky full-metal-jacket grey, water choked with yellow foam and unusually rough, tide you can taste before you even see it. (beach people know what I mean, right? you’re all smiling and nodding your heads.) you’d think the place would be deserted, save for an errant seagull with a death wish.

but it’s at times like this that you see fishermen in long windbreakers and waist-high boots, heading down the stone driveway and taking a place along the edge of the voracious surf. they could be home eating takeout from peking house, letting their eyes glaze in front of the game or angry birds or talking the plusses and minuses of drywall with their housemate. warm, dry…safe.

instead they’re here, at the very edge of the eastern seaboard, and on a night that feels very much like the eastern seaboard is the precarious edge of the world. always wondered what the draw was. so this time I asked.

I  approached a guy and yelled, “what are ya trying for?”

he turned around. mid-twenties. “what?”

“what are ya trying for?”

“oh! striped bass!”

now I love fish, but have never eaten a striper, let alone one fresh caught. “what do they taste like?”

I’m not kidding—his face lit up like a christmas tree. “the best!’

he pulled a wad of plant life off his hook and complained that there was too much seaweed. I told him I’d heard they call that an irish flounder. he said, “or grass bass!” I laughed and told him to break a leg.

this was at the northern end of allenhurst’s beach. on what we locals call the surfers’ beach, the scrap of sand between allenhurst and loch arbour, I came across fisherman #2, in his late fifties.

he saw me first, almost toppled over into a wave, and yelled that he must be crazy to be there. then he laughed. I asked him the same question—what are you trying for?—and he gave the same answer.

“they bite well in this tide?”

“OH yeah!”

“what do they taste like?”

again the rapturous expression. “like lobster. not fishy like bluefish. firm.”

“how do you cook it?”

“steamed–that’s the best way.”

“a little lemon?”

“yeah!”

there are arguably better places to pick up recipes than next to a natural force that keeps hinting that it wants to kill you, but then again, maybe there aren’t.

remember, these guys aren’t home eating takeout. it must be worth it.

now I have to get their names…and ask how much for their next catch.

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