So far it's butterfish: 2 and Stephanie: 0.
Okay that's not true. Now that I think of it, I must have first had this fish, under the name of "black cod," at A.O.C. Wine Bar
in LA, as part of a small plate. It was delicious then, too. But Google is what really brought this fish to the forefront of my consciousness.
Failure Number 1
A couple months ago, since I left Google (and since they probably stopped serving this magical but pretty expensive fish in the cafes), Garry and I got it in our heads that we would attempt to cook a butterfish fillet. We hadn't the faintest idea where to buy one, except at Whole Foods for like $17/lb. But we were walking down Clement St. one day and stopped into one of those smelly fishmongeries and lo and behold, there was the butterfish on a bed of ice. Against our better judgement, we bought one and took it home.
We looked up a number of recipes for how to prepare the butterfish, most calling for (amazingly!) frying it in butter with some other stuff. So we tried it, but it was a disaster. Adding butter to the oiliest fish alive resulted in something that was sickeningly oily, with that slimy aftertaste you get sometimes from eating fish. Plus, I don't think it was the freshest when we bought it at the smelly fishmonger. Garry swore off butterfish forever, and couldn't even enjoy it at my friend Karin's wedding (though I enjoyed it thoroughly, as it was prepared with miso and baked to perfection).
Failure Number 2
So it came to pass that I was at Costco and saw the guy standing there at the station with all the fancy seafood and saw trays of whole butterfish lying there at $6.99/lb. I couldn't believe it. I hemmed and hawed for about two minutes before I found myself selecting a modestly sized tray. A two-pounder. Never mind that I have never filleted a fish in my life and had no idea what I was in for. As I clutched the tray and headed to the checkout stand, I started to get a little creeped out by the sort-of wriggly, slimy body under my fingers.
As such, I was very busy with work, weddings and packing for my move, so I left the fish in there (only I can find a way to procrastinate on preparing food!) for three, maybe three and a half, days. Bad idea! When I cut into the package, the stench immediately rushed out and filled the air in my kitchen. I wasn't sure if it was supposed to smell like that, or if it was just plain rotten. My mom told me to test the fish by poking it to see if the meat was mushy, but it looked okay.
The first thing I did, because the thing was so big and black and creepy, was cut it in half to make it look less like a living creature. I should have used gloves, because I would be smelling the fish on my fingers (a disgustingly acrid smell) for a full two days afterwards. The skin of the thing was so bizarre, thick and tough and covered with what felt like tiny spines, much like the skin of a shark or ray. As I got down to the part where the guts should have been I thought to myself, "Dear lord, please tell me they gutted this fish for me!" Mercifully, they had.
The bone structure was unlike any I had encountered before in a fish. Most fish I've dealt with have a spine, with one fan of bones going up and another one going down, with the meat on either side. Very straightforward. This thing, however, had what seemed like three or four sets of bones radiating out from the spine, so that when I tried to fillet the meat from one side, my knife kept going through bones. I started to just hack away at the thing, grimacing the whole time, and finally came away with maybe 6-8 three-inch portions of fish. I covered it in miso (that's a whole other story) and set it in my fridge overnight.
The next day, it looked okay. I took the fish, rinsed off the miso and set it in a baking pan to bake for 15 min. at 350 degrees. It didn't take on that browny edge that I always see at restaurants, but the fish was cooking through and it was leaking a good lot of liquid. I pulled it out and tried searing the fillets on a very hot pan, which gave it a brownish edge but did nothing to improve the taste.
I very cautiously put a flake or two in my mouth and immediately wanted to spit it out. It was, after all, not good--or maybe it was just all the psychological confusion of smelling the raw fish and battling it for so many hours. At any rate, I was done with it and just wanted to be rid of the whole experience. (In case you haven't guessed, it takes a LOT for me to give up and throw away food.) I ended up throwing the whole thing away and frying an egg for dinner--something simple, something I was comfortably familiar with.
That night I typed desperately to my coworkers into my blackberry as I was falling asleep:
Hey ladies, I'm trying to recover from an awful experience attempting to fillet and cook a butterfish. It did not end well and I need something to restore my faith in food (and my appetite). Any interest in taco truck for lunch?