Jiro Dreams of Sushi, a documentary about the world famous sushi chef in Japan, made waves in the food world last year with its high definition celebration of the tiny basement level restaurant and their impeccable selection and treatment of the most appetizing seafood imaginable. Jiro continues to make his name serving what is thought to be one of the most expensive meals on earth, which is calculated partly by the length of the meal that often lasts less than 20 minutes as simple dish after dish is prepared in rapid succession, almost immediately after the last is consumed.
The scenes of the intense bidding wars at the fish auctions are extraordinary and comical, as deeply crimson tuna are assessed and then snatched up for astronomical prices. Live octopus wriggle and wrap themselves around brokers’ arms before they are brought back to the restaurant, eventually killed and then massaged by a chef whose only responsibility is to spend his days kneading the meat the same way, all day until they have been sufficiently tenderized. Every day he does the same. The products could not be honored more thoughtfully, while the days of tuna and prawns of such quality and size are obviously numbered as the glorification of these delicacies continues.
There may never be another Jiro who has lived to master the precise treatment of these products during a time of incredible abundance, technological advances in their capture and the fleeting days that we will enjoy them. I watched in awe as this man brought them to their fullest gastronomical potential and eventually onto the small plates they are served upon, only to be gobbled up in moments and gone. I imagined what such a pleasure must taste like.
I know no one with a fraction of the knowledge Jiro has in his process, though growing up here and living on the Island I have begun to realize the unparalleled quality of seafood we have coming from our surrounding waters.
No matter the time of year or the quota limits that have been set, we can always cook and eat from our waters knowing we would be hard pressed to find anything like this anyplace else on earth. Our fishermen have learned from men like Jiro how to read the water and the weather and how to haul in, and then precisely treat each product before it’s offloaded onshore. Jiro knows his purveyors intimately, but I would be surprised if he knew those responsible for catching them by name the way we do, since fish are often shipped across the world to him as rapidly as possible to preserve their freshness. In my life I can refer to a fisherman by name, select the perfect bluefish knowing exactly who caught it, what hour it was brought to shore and how it was bled and gutted immediately after it was hooked and packed directly onto ice.
My home turf is Menemsha, where three fish markets thrive next to one another while fish, lobster and crustaceans often flop around in their cumbersome totes while being slipped in the back door in plain sight of those enjoying a steamed lobster on the docks. I can buy fish so fresh their flavors are barely detectable as fish. Fluke season has become lengthy and, without doing my homework, seems to never end. If they aren’t still swimming in a tank with a lobster then they are contorted and rigid, as if frozen in time practicing yoga in the walk-in fridge. Their eyes are clear as a blue sky, their flesh taut and slimy like Windy Gates clay being lapped by the tide. Cooking these beautiful specimens is contagiously joyous to those tending the fire or sitting impatiently for it to land on their dinner plates, and sometimes cooking them at all seems pointless.
I often find myself down at Larsen’s with the clock ticking for my next task, sumptuous products lining the case in front of me with hours since I last ate and hours before I know I will be able to sit down to a meal. In these times, instead of taking the time to wait for a more filling lobster roll or a microwaved stuffed clam, both filled with empty calories, I will purchase a filet of fluke along with whatever else I will be cooking that day and promptly eat the whole filet bite by bite as naked as it came while I hurry out the door into to my double parked Ford Ranger. This is fast food meant for the gods and the only thing that would make it better is if I kept a container of salt on my dashboard and a bottle of soy sauce in my glove compartment (note to self: purchase both tomorrow).
Watching Jiro cook can’t help but make me feel wanderlust for far off places, but there is no need to fly anywhere, no need to take the ferry off the Island or in my case even leave my neighborhood. We have all we need here, where every day a new, young farmer pops up who is following her dreams and growing perfect food for our community. Weeds volunteer themselves to us without any cultivation, including currently lamb’s quarter, purslane and milkweed. We do not need anything else to eat well and live a healthy life. This is why I cook so simply and live so happily, because I have what I need and the Island dictates what that is. I was in Larsen’s two days ago and the woman in front of me looked at the counter and sighed exclaiming to her companion: “I wish they still had bay scallops,” as bluefish, fluke and rock crab shone in front of her. I know we are all spoiled (I certainly am), but there is no use wishing for things we can’t have, especially when what is right in front of us is perfect.
Ford Ranger Fluke
One filet of fluke.
Enter your trusted fishmonger’s establishment. Inquire about the precise day and hour the fluke was landed. If the answer is less than 36 hours, shell out asking price, don’t bother to have it bagged, then walk out the door and as quickly or slowly as you’d like, eat the fluke like a candy bar.