Monday, 3 August 2015

Hunting and Gathering

One of the pleasures of sailing is fishing.  I have to admit that we are not very good at it yet judging by the fact that we only ever catch mackerel and I don’t like mackerel. 

Our latest fishing expedition was in the Chausey Islands, the only islands in the Channel to remain French. 

Mareda in Chausey Sound (click on photo for larger image)

Winding our way through the Beauchamp pass at low tide.

Grande Ile, Chausey

We fish with a long trolling line towed behind the boat that has 6 hooks on it festooned with a combination of shiny and feathery things that drive mackerel wild.  A little diving board that looks like a cuttlefish bone makes the line plunge down beneath the surface a few meters as it is towed along.  When you catch something, the board comes up to the surface to indicate that there is something heavier than itself on the line (fish, seaweed, trash bag)  The boat speed needs to be under 4 knots and you need to be around coastal areas where mackerel like to hang out.

Then there’s the disturbing bit: what to do once you actually catch something. 

Jack with mack
The first time I fished in Brittany from a sailboat, we were 6 crew members and we caught 5 mackerel on a trolling line.  The skipper gave everyone but me (the only woman) a fish to kill, and each proceeded to apply his own technique.  The skipper swore by his method of banging the fish between the eyes with the winch handle.  Another whipped out his sailing knife and began sawing away, a bit surprised that the knife didn’t slip effortlessly through the poor beast’s skull.  With much tsk-tsk-tsking, another pulled out his knife and explained that the preferred method was to plunge the knife vertically down between the eyes, severing the brain stem, not unlike the coup-de-grace in a bullfight.  With one hand grasping the fish and the other carefully positioning the knife, he looked around helplessly for a third hand to actually do the plunging.  After several attempts to do it himself and with absolutely no help from the wriggling fish, he resorted to the sawing method of his predecessor.  The fourth crew member, apparently influenced by the skipper’s winch handle trick, simply banged the head of the fish directly on the winch, reasoning that any hard-angled edge should do the trick.  The last crew member took a more passive approach and decided it was best to just let the fish suffocate in a bucket of warm seawater.  The carnage in the cockpit was truly spectacular, and when the furore died down and calm returned, we surveyed the scene with a mix of disgust and pride.  The results: two dead (decapitated), two stunned-but-still-twitching, and one in its final death throes, gasping hopelessly for oxygen. 

A quick survey of the most humane way to kill a fish indicates that you must first stun the fish and then bleed it rapidly by cutting the gills or cut off its head.  Stunning alone does not kill the fish, and sawing off its head while it still has all its wits about it is frowned upon.  And if I were you, I’d watch my back when sailing with those passive-aggressive types who go in for slow suffocation.

Jack filets mack.  (You notice it's always Jack doing the icky bits ?)
My octogenarian friend Michel has a different method that appeals to me for a number of reasons.  It’s both barbaric and efficient, relatively bloodless, requires no tools, and if you beam your best southern belle peaches-and-cream smile while you do it, nobody’s gonna mess with you the whole rest of the cruise.  This is specific for mackerel but can probably be applied to any fish with a relatively small head.  In a bucket of water, you grab the fish with one hand and with the other, you place your index and middle fingers in the gills from below.  Placing your thumb on the fish’s head between the eyes, you simply push down with the thumb, pull up with the fingers in the gills, and using a quick wrist action, twist the fish’s head back, snapping its spine and severing the spinal column with one rapid snap.  You can hear it crack and death seems to be more-or-less immediate.  Bonus points if you can giggle and say “so cute!” while you do it.

So now you have a properly dead mackerel.  But you still don’t like mackerel, do you?  Here’s my marinade recipe for mackerel sushi that’ll make it all go down happily (quantities are approximate…):

3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon sweet soy sauce (teriyaki)
1 tablespoon sesame seed oil
1-2 teaspoons of wasabi paste
1 clove finely chopped or crushed garlic
1-2 teaspoons of fresh finely chopped ginger
Serve with sticky rice.  YUM !  (can’t even taste the mackerel now !)
And if hunting and fishing don’t appeal to you, “gathering” is nice, too.  These fellows found their way onto our plates straight from the fishmonger.