Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Family Dinner

“So dad caught a fish.”
“Well, that’s good.”
“No. You don’t understand. Like, A FISH”
“Yes… a fish…”
Just then the phone beeped and the photo came in. Sure enough, there stood my dad in the middle of the kitchen, looking a little like Michelangelo’s “Pieta”, with a striped sea bass draped across his arms. This was indeed, A FISH.

The photo I got on my phone. Check out the proud grin! No, not on the fish
“Dad wants to know how he should freeze it.”
“In the freezer?”
“But it doesn’t fit.”
Behind Michele I could hear the familiar racket of my mom and dad bickering like The Odd Couple the way they did over almost everything – how to park the cars, spatulas, whether or not to sacrifice the wall unit for a larger television.
“What’s the problem now?”
“Dad’s scaling it in the kitchen sink and now there are scales in all of mom’s plants.”
“Tell her it’s good fertilizer.”
“But what do we do with THE FISH?”
“Don’t worry. Jon and I are coming over this weekend. Whatever you do, just don’t throw out the head.”
I hung up the phone and turned to Jon, who was lost in video game land.
“So… my dad caught A FISH.”
“Tell them not to throw out the head.” He replied without diverting his eyes from the mutant ranger he was trying to blast.

"What do you mean I can't keep it?"
The plan for the weekend was to go out to Jersey to spend some quality time with my family and our wonderful drum smoker. You know, the one we can’t fit in Manhattan. We figured we’d smoke some pork butt to freeze for later use as well as the last of the hot peppers for the season (sniff). So off we went Friday night with a few bags of goodies from Fairway and the farmer’s market, two reluctant cats in their carriers and all of our laundry – since having it driven to and from New Jersey is actually easier than lugging it all 10 blocks and paying per load. What can I say? I lived home during college and missed out on my chance to drag laundry home for mom to do.

Saturday morning, after unsuccessfully making coffee (my relationship with my parent’s coffee pot is another post altogether), it was time to embark on the weekend cooking festivities. Jon and I set up our smoker and went to work marinating the pork butts with a marinade of cayenne pepper, smoked paprika, brown sugar, coffee grounds and Trader Joe’s spiced apple cider. It’s the first time we smoked anything using a wet marinade and I was pretty excited because it tasted really great and a drippy, glistening chunk of meat always looks appetizing. So into the smoker it went next to the mélange of hot peppers.

Then, after a trip to COSTCO and a stop at the famous (and completely awkward) White Manna in Hackensack, we walked back into the house and behold! There, sticking up out of the sink towered THE FISH in two parts: the body and its giant mass of a head.

THE FISH, dwarfing a large baking sheet
After staring at it a while and playing with it’s tongue (don’t ask), it was decided that my dad would cook the body, Jon would grill the head and my mom and I would cook the sides.

Fish tongue!

Dad went straight to work. As we sorted laundry, Jon and I exchanged a kind of half amazed, half alarmed look as my dad rotated through just about every seasoning in the cabinet and sprinkled it liberally onto the skin. I could hear my common sense panicking: STOP THAT MAN! FISH IS DELICATE! LIGHTLY SEASON! LIGHTLY SEASON! LEMON! A FEW HERBS! SALT! DON’T TOUCH THAT CAJUN SEASONING! BAAAHH! IS THAT BASIL NOW???!!!
And then, my Danna-sense kicked in. I had seen this happen many times before: my dad, in almost Rain Man-like concentration, two-handedly seasoning some freestyle recipe. It’s alarming and, like most things that happen in the Danna house, totally unorthodox. But his gumbo? AMAZING. Vegetarian split-pea soup? Superb. Turkey meatloaf? It’s the best meatloaf around. And there is never a recipe. It’s whatever he feels like needs to go in, no matter how odd it may sound. And 99% of the time, it works! As for that 1%? That was some sort of ham and eggplant concoction wrapped in mozzarella and put in the oven. We don’t talk about that.


I turned to Jon.
“Don’t worry. He’s Rain Manning it.”
Jon looked even more disturbed as we returned to our never-ending pile of socks.

After a debate about how long and at what temperature we should cook it – most recipes were designed to cook a fish, not THE FISH – Jon began grilling the head, my mom made some roasted fingerling potatoes and I prepared some grilled asparagus with lemon zest and parmesan and some sautéed brussel sprouts with white wine and rosemary.

Grilled fish head. It had enough meat in it for a meal by itself!
The kitchen started to smell really, really good. My dad opened the foil and offered Jon and I a taste of the savory juices.
“Sal, that’s pretty awesome.” Jon exclaimed. My dad’s proud grin stretched even wider.

Chef Dad hit another one out of the park.

Family dinner


  1. Oh my god you are hilarious and PLEASE tell me you will come for Christmas and cook....please (that is whining)

  2. yup. and i just sat there with my thumb up my ass again. ya know, those plates didn't get to the table by themselves!!! ;)

    (and btw... i make the fairest turkey meatloaf in all the land)