Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Things We Cook for Love

I have a confession to make.

Anyone who loves food, who is a "foodie," if you will, should love food in all its forms. Any true chef can make beautiful dishes out of whatever food she is given--even offal. But the truth is, I would much rather try sweetbreads, brains, kidneys, or liver than eat one very popular type of food. It's seafood. Any type of fish, shellfish, crustacean--no matter how much others try to convince me that any given fish isn't "fishy," I can still smell it. Lobsters, oysters, crabs: I understand why rabbis have deemed them "unclean". I look at a trout and I can't help but remember my father's catches on camping trips, skewered on a sharpened branch with their eyes fogging over as they cooked. There are so many contributing factors to my distaste for all food that once swam, and although I have tried, I can't seem to get over it. Even pet fish give me the creeps.

Of course, it only makes sense that someone like me would marry someone who drools over commercials for Red Lobster. Ian's main seafood craving: shrimp. Now, when I was small, shrimp was the only seafood I could deal with. Battered, fried shrimp at Long John Silver's, globbed with tartar sauce or that really sweet red cocktail sauce that they only seem to serve with shrimp. But that's not fair. At that age, I would have eaten a dirt clod if you dipped it in batter and fried it. Slather it in sauce, and fuggedaboudit. Later in life, during a brief stint as a cook for a catering company, I got stuck de-tailing and skewering 20 pounds of raw shrimp. Afterward, I felt like I had just won a prize. I had spent four hours dealing with seafood and never once had I even gagged. Perhaps I had finally overcome one of my silly seafood blocks.

For Ian's birthday last year, I made shrimp scampi. Well, "made" might be too strong a word. It came out of a yellow bag that I found in the frozen foods section of the grocery store. I still couldn't bring myself to eat any, but I felt I was growing. The next time I cooked shrimp, I would eat some for sure.

Today was the next time I cooked shrimp.

I found the recipe in Cooking Light Magazine. It looked fantastic: risotto with spinach, goat cheese, and shrimp. How could the shrimp be bad when it kept such good company? I bought a package of pre-cooked, previously frozen shrimp from the store, not wanting to be responsible if the shrimp turned out to be rubbery. Ian was working late--he still isn't home, as a matter of fact--but I turned out the risotto anyway, stopping along the way to sample some of the extra goat cheese. I hadn't been able to find arborio rice at a reasonable price, but some generic medium-grain rice did the trick. I pulled the shrimp out of the fridge to take the chill off of it. As the rice absorbed more and more of the chicken stock, I started to get nervous. The shrimp was next, and I wasn't sure how I would react.

I cut the package open with my chef's knife and tossed the first little pink creature onto the cutting board. I know how to take the tails off shrimp--as I said before, I have mass experience in removing shrimp tails--but already, that plasticky, fishy, seafood smell was in my face. I chopped the first tail off with my knife, and the second, too--but the penny pincher in me just couldn't keep it up. That's a significant proportion of meat to lose--meat my husband would miss--and I couldn't do it. I didn't have any disposable gloves on hand and the risotto was getting thicker by the second, so I went for it. I pulled the tails off those little bugs, watching their juice run out onto the cutting board with dismay. Soon enough it was time to stir them into the pot, and when they hit the heat they really let their aroma into the air. I didn't gag, exactly. It's not quite vile enough a smell to make me retch. But still, I had to get rid of it. It's like that horrible soap they have in airplane bathrooms: malodorous, and something to be avoided.

Still, I wanted to grow. I wanted to take a bite of that risotto, shrimp and all, but--how could I? I felt like such a child. It was a beautiful dish--creamy, flecked with pink and green, something that would entice even a picky eater--but I could not take a bite. It was as if my mouth had been wired shut.

I packed the risotto into a portable container and drove it over to Ian's office. I'm sure he and his coworkers will have eaten very well tonight, if Ian was willing to share. I just hope I didn't curse anyone else who might have a seafood aversion like mine. I'm afraid to get back into my car now because I'm certain it smells like shrimp, and I've been running the fan in the house to rid it of any lingering odors. Still, I'm glad I made the risotto and not something more to my liking. Ian rarely gets seafood, and I know that's my fault.

Maybe one day I'll have a revelation. Maybe one day I'll find some dish that will open new culinary doors. Maybe my senses will dull, or someone will prepare seafood so skillfully that I don't even know I'm eating it.


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