Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Hunting & Consumerism: But is it safe to eat?

This is still the closed season for all but still water fishing in the U.K, so I can't wander down to my local river and try to hoik one out with spinners and suchlike, but even so I found myself thinking about River Perch this morning - particularly the challenge of filleting them. They have the most extraordinary scales, Perch - there's no way to get them off with a scaling tool - and, for the first few I caught, I was quite at a loss about how to deal with them. I tried roasting them with their scales on but that didn't work so well - since the scales tended to pop off during the cooking you ended up with mouthfuls of fish garnished with - seemingly - burnt fingernails: not terribly pleasant!

When I was trying to figure out how to get around this I trawled through YouTube for help. Among them all, this is the one I found most helpful and I thought I'd post it here. It's a tremendously simple and easy way to skin a Perch and produce very tidy fillets. I've tried it myself and it works a treat:



I have a dim memory of reading somewhere that - what with the difficulties of off-shore fishing - there was a good deal of Perch eaten in the UK during WWII. And because of this, after the war, Perch were viewed as a reminder of austerity fare and were shunned. Maybe this is so, maybe not, but whatever the reason, Perch is certainly viewed over here as being an animal which resides outside the class of acceptable foodstuffs: Perch is not to be eaten. Having eaten a few of them myself I can certainly say they are indeed a perfectly pleasant thing to eat and - by quite a large margin - nicer than, for instance, the pale and dull tasting 'Vietnamese River Cobbler' that's on sale in Tesco's these days.

It's odd though - when I told people that I'd been, for months, catching and eating river Perch the most common reaction by far was 'Is it safe? Aren't the rivers polluted?'. The most common reaction after that was "Isn't it illegal? Aren't they a protected species or something?"

It seems to me that this is - at least here in the U.K - a symptom of a growing fear and distrust of food that hasn't been 'authorised' in some way. It's as if we think that, if something hasn't gone through the mill of the giant supermarket chains - if we haven't bought it from Tesco's, in other words, then the food must automatically be contaminated with something dangerous or that consuming it will make us criminals. "Is it safe?" "Isn't it illegal". It's very strange.

All over England you'll see apples rotting on trees in the Autumn. We don't pick them any more; kids don't go scrumping any more: if an apple doesn't come from Tesco's, we seem to think, then it's not a real apple at all.
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6 comments:

  1. Hmmm, perch, that's good eating. For me, it's comfort food growing up as I did in the American South where every splash of water has at least one in it. Youtube is a great resource, too.

    For real fun, you need to hook in to a gar. They are pound for pound the most fun of any freshwater fish that I know of to reel in. A little hard to process, though, so fair warning. Here's a video showing what you need to do should you land one.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3yQceA9n6Xw

    I know what you mean about the whole "if it didn't come from the supermarket or restaurant, then it must not be edible" train of thought. It's odd to realize just how many different fruits, vegetables, and meats are no longer commonly eaten that were common just 50 or 100 years ago.

    During work today, I was walking with a friend and mentioned how common it used to be for people to eat pidgeon. It was as if I had mentioned vacationing on the moon, it simply didn't compute. I got some of the same reactions when telling folks about baking a rabbit that I bagged over the winter. Speaking of, I can't wait until the season starts again so that I can try out your "Rabbit in Cider" recipe, yummy! Only two more weeks until squirrel season opens again, and I get to try out "Jugged Squirrel" [http://home.insightbb.com/~bspen/kingdish.html]

    Cheers,

    Bobby

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  2. The funny thing is that this sense of official food is so strong in some people they cant even go to Lidl where the food is from the same factory, just in a cheaper box.
    SBW
    PS Bobby is so right the looks people give you if you say you like to eat pigeon!

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  3. Dear Bobby and SBW,

    Thank you for your, as ever, very interesting comments. I've been reading a talk thread on the Guardian website recently ( http://tinyurl.com/c4sh6w - I post there as 'HumanBoeing') where someone has been saying that they lived quite happily in London for a couple of years eating feral pigeon stew at least twice a week! Nothing, personally, strikes me as less appetising than this but, equally, nothing is as good an example of the perfectly habitable realms beyond the anxiously-guarded fences of current culinary norms.
    HH

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  4. SBW,

    Well, I haven't actually eaten a pigeon, yet, but one day I probably will. It's a pest bird here, and thus available for hunting year round.

    I seem to remember something about Hemingway and friends eating pigeon during their time spent in Paris after WWI, and that's where I originally got the idea.

    My brother and his wife used to harvest the crabapples from the ornamental apple trees planted throughout their university campus in order to make jelly. He said that it made for some awkward conversations with the more urbane folks on campus. I can attest to her skill with the jelly-making, BTW.

    Cheers,

    Bobby

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  5. Dear Bobby,

    That's a great story - I really like it: it's lovely to imagine someone actually finding something to eat in the academy, finding something nourishing and, in this, refusing to ignore the real possibilities that exist around them - all of this within an arena that's at the same time, perhaps, busy trying refuse this offer. It's nice to imagine the questions that are raised by the meeting of the two worlds there.

    Thank you for that.
    HH

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  6. Hubert,

    I read the "Roadkill Duck" thread that you listed, and it's very funny. I loved the comment from the guy who wanted to waterboard pigeons that keep him up at night.

    You might enjoy this story written a few years ago by a resident of Seattle who went about trying to hunt various animals within the city limits. I don't condone hunting illegally as he seems to be doing, but the story is a very good one. It's interesting to track his learning experiences as he sets about his task. The comment thread is interesting as well.

    http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/Content?oid=81126

    Seattle is one of our Left Coast cities, so it's to be expected that you would find lots of anti-hunting commenters and other nay-sayers. I admire his tenacity in the face of much criticism.

    Cheers,

    Bobby

    P.S. BTW, skinning a squirrel doesn't have to be hard or messy. The method you menioned on the roadkill thread is demonstrated on youtube [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=66AVwthXgMA]

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