Scaling Fish

January 12, 2010

(I won’t even explain where I’ve been. There’s no point, I am officially useless at keeping up this blog…)

I spent Christmas in London with my Uncle and Aunt y and cousins. Christmas in London is always a fabulous mix of Nigeria meeting British culture: I revel in endless cups of tea and English shortbread while we cook up pots of jollof rice, egusi soup and other homey favourites.

This year a good friend of the family, Uncle Olu, decided to cook the bulk of our Christmas dinner. Uncle Olu is a seasoned cook. Even better, he can cook endlessly, with seemingly no end of energy. I am in awe.

Our Christmas menu involved jollof rice (a pilaf cooked in tomato sauce), moi moi (steamed bean cakes– in this case Uncle Olu filled them with boiled eggs and fresh stewed tuna), yam potage (white yam stewed in tomatoes), fried plantains (my aunty sprinkled in cinnamon– very new thing for me), lemon and herb roasted turkey (I always end up doing the turkey… ),fruit salad, green salad, roast potatoes, piles and piles of Uncle Olu’s fried tilapia and  my Christmas butter cookies (Gourmet, December 2005, may she rest in peace).

Two days before Christmas, my uncle and aunty, Uncle Olu and myself piled into the car at half past six to drive out to the Billingsgate Fish Market on the eastern end of London to buy fish whole sale for the holiday meals. We bought a case of whole tillapia, another of sea bream, more of  prawns, and a small whole tuna. This of course meant that we ate fish non stop for practically the rest of the week, but it was all delicious and I learned some good tips from Uncle Olu about how to scale fish.
First you fill the sink with cold water and submerge the fish. Then you scale the fish by working from the tail towards the gills with a table knife, going against the grain of the fish to fleck off the scales. This is surprisingly easy and very satisfying to feel the smooth skin once the scales are off. Its a little trickier around the gills and the eyes on the head. We saved all the heads either for stewing or seasoned and fried them up with the rest of the fish. After scaling, we cut the fish at the neck and squeeze the gills out. For the larger fish, you slice a third of the way down the belly and squeeze out the innards. Not the most pleasant but it goes quickly. Next Uncle Olu gives the fish another good rinse in cold water then soaks them in lemon juice and water. After which we seasoned with salt, pepper and bouillon cubes from home (okay fine, Knorr cubes for those of you who are in the know…)


And thats it! We stewed some in a lovely thin red tomato sauce which resulted in sweet, tender pieces of fish which we ate with white rice. The rest we pan fried or grilled for Christmas dinner. (I convinced Uncle Olu to let me season some with ginger, scallions, and soy sauce… when it was cooked he admitted with surprise that it was delicious. Whew!)
It was a feast.

Meanwhile, I’m in Capetown visiting my brother and sister in law. I’ve had some interesting adventures with vegan cupcakes…