I’ve never been a fussy eater. In fact, I was the kid in grade school who’d beg other hot lunch kids to hand over their little bowls of spinach and “dessert” prunes if they weren’t gonna eat ‘em. I even thought chicken livers were a delicacy.
But I felt like the only adult human on the planet who didn’t like salmon. Except for Nana’s Scottish creamed salmon and peas on toast. Canned peas, canned salmon, it wasn’t the kind of broiled, lemon-spritzed entrée so many of my restaurant companions salivate over while I dig into some other special of the day. Nana’s salmon was “the good stuff,” which meant cheap but tasty, processed by Bumble Bee and trucked to her grocery store. With a husband running tugboats in and out of Boston Harbor, a father-in-law working a butcher shop in Faneuil Hall, and a son (my dad) who only put down his rod and reel when he needed both hands, I’m pretty sure Nana had access to fresher caught fish and knew her way around a fillet. But, back in the Sixties, fast food was way better than fresh. And anything pre-sliced, ready-to-serve was way better than shucking peas and filleting and deboning no matter how much salt water ran in your veins.
From a young age, I was turned off by bony “fishy” fish, including lake trout, mackerel, salmon and, especially, that silver striped bass flesh that always made it into my mouth despite my efforts to “eat around it” and appreciate the tasty, flaky white stuff that starving kids around the world could not. Ketchup became my accompaniment of choice, flummoxing my Striped Bass King of Great Bay father to no end. Over the years, I tried to train my palate, but only succeeded in finding more sophisticated ways of disguising that taste. I’d smother landlocked salmon in fancy herb sauces and swill plenty of wine chasers. And once at a blue-blooded baby shower not too far from where Nana used to doctor up her canned fish, I mistook lox for deli ham and had to ball it up in my exquisite napkin till I could go “powder my nose” and flush it.
Finally, I caught my own in the Kenai River, Alaska, and tasted coho salmon the way nature intended. Fresh out of the water, broiled, lightly battered and fried, baked, over polenta, under eggs benedict—-it was all good! It was good flash frozen, too, all 45 pounds of it, and well worth paying for our extra salmon luggage. When it was gone, I wished my piscatorial preferences could pivot back to Mooselook salmon, but that never happened. And smoked + fish? Yeah, that just makes it worse. Smoke should only be a flavor by accident, not choice. That’s OK, though. It sure is pretty appetizing to think about going back to Alaska.