If you cheat once, you’ll cheat again. This is an old saying I determined to be true. Why, you may ask? The answer is because I witnessed firsthand how those dirty little cheaters operate… ohhh yes, I did! I witnessed them… or uh, maybe I should clarify here… *Clearing throat* I witnessed… myself… fall into the “cheating” category. But hey, listen here! It’s not my fault. Honest! I blame the bass. Yes, the bass! It’s his fault… or eh, her fault. Whatever. The sex of this striped bass doesn’t matter. The thing that does is that it is the bass’ fault, pure and simple. In fact, I’m so convinced, you be the judge! Enter the bass…
Episode 10, Season 1: “A Dome Full of Bass.” I was t.h.r.i.l.l.e.d to make this application. In fact, if I pulled this off (mwah hahaha), I may well be one of the best home cooks there is! Tooting my own horn a little loud? I don’t care, because this application blew my mind! It calls for a whole five to six-pound striped bass… to be stuffed full with parsley, fennel, thyme and orange. Then, you create this awe-inspiring salt paste: TWO THREE-POUND BOXES of kosher salt (oh. my. word. salt) and mix it with eggs and water… to create this bed… slash mound… slash cavity for the bass. Need more description? Here’s Alton’s picture:
I’m talking putting a large, whole fish in the middle of a half sheet pan and covering every single scale of the thing in a salt paste. But we’re not done yet, you dear cook! Time for the oven… where the salt mixture is heated until it becomes a rock-hard dome… which you then have to chisel and hammer off… until a perfectly cooked fish remains. And then — only then — are you ready to cut perfect fillets.
*Whew* I’m worn out just describing the steps. This is a big deal… so much so, notice Alton writes in caps… in a 20-font size, “NOTE: OBVIOUSLY YOU SHOULD SERVE THIS AT THE TABLE. IT’S A PERFORMANCE!” A performance indeed! And I was elated to be the ring master…
the bass screwed it all up. Stupid, dumb bass.
See, tracking down some of Alton’s ingredients are tricky. I had a problem finding orange blossom honey (“Macerated Strawberries” for Episode 7, Season 1: “Shortcake”)… along with key lime preserves (Episode 6, Season 1: “Key Lime Sorbet“)… and can’t forget the sherry vinegar problems (more on that to come). Yes, some ingredients are damn near impossible… some, such as striped bass. Now I know there are some of you out there questioning my searching-skills, but I challenge you! HA! You find a striped bass! And let’s see whose questioning who then! Because I went through hell and high water to acquire one…
I called Whole Foods — which as I’ve said before has everything under the sun… from sun-dried tomatoes… fresh, handmade dough… to ostrich, emu, duck and quail eggs… swordfish (I can keep going)… but what they didn’t have was striped bass. After popping in and out of Whole Foods regularly… and walking away empty-handed, I decided the best way to tackle this problem was to call first.
Me: “Hi; do you sell whole striped bass?”
Fish monger: “No, but we have rockfish; it’s in the same family as bass.”
Me: “Oh, I didn’t know that… *A few seconds lapse* …But do you get in striped bass?”
Fish monger: “No; not normally. But we do get in European bass and bass.”
Me: “Oh… but no striped bass… ?”
Fish monger: “No. How big of a fish are you looking for?”
Me: “Five to six pounds.”
Fish monger: “Oh! Well the bass we do get in are much smaller; but the rockfish is that size.”
So basically, I determined she was trying to sell me the rockfish because she didn’t have any bass… and I wasn’t the buying fool!
I hung up… began feeling let down and lost… so I called James (exclaiming, “I mean, if WHOLE FOODS doesn’t have striped bass… WHO THE HELL WILL?!?!”) He, the sweetheart, offered to call other fish markets in the area… while I tackled Trader Joe’s (another store known for carrying a wide array of products.)
Me: “Hi, do you carry whole striped bass?”
Fish monger: “We used to, but it was marked as an endangered species, so we voluntarily chose not to carry it.”
Me: “Really!? I had no idea! Do you carry any other types of bass?”
Fish monger: “We sometimes get in European bass, but we don’t have it in now… *mumbling something about bass coming all the way from Chile and how — when the list of endangered species came out — they were asking fisherman not to catch bass*… so again, we voluntarily chose not to get it in.”
Me: “Wow. Okay… What about rockfish? I called another store, and they told me rockfish is in the same family as bass. Is this true?”
Fish monger: “Yes! Rockfish is… but it’s not as good… of um, quality if that makes sense. Bass is above rockfish. Does that make sense?”
Me: “Perfect sense. But here’s my concern… I don’t know anything about fish and their families… so the only way I can put it is this… If I go… into a pet store and ask for a cat… but they give me a lion… Is rockfishs’ relation to bass like that? A cat to a lion?” (Yes; I sadly said this.)
Fish monger: “Oh no! Rockfish and bass are a cat and a cat.”
Me: “So it’s like a Siamese and a Calico?”
Fish monger: “Exactly! Or even closer; they’re both the same cats, just different colors.”
Let me tell you, this conversation happened with the first person that picked up the phone! I wasn’t even transferredto the seafood department (like Whole Foods did). Incredible! I thanked the guy profusely, hung up, and immediately called James… to which I said — with all honesty, “Babe. If we weren’t engaged, I would have asked the Trader Joe’s guy when he got off work. Not joking. …Okay well maybe I am… but still.” James though didn’t laugh. In fact, he completely bypassed me by asking, “So is this what you want to make?” He’s used to my shenanigans.
To answer his question though, no! No, I did not want rockfish! I wanted bass. Striped bass. …Well, I did and I didn’t. I desired it because I want to be an Alton protegé… but it broke my heart to know striped bass was endangered… and Alton — who is clearly a genius — has to have known this… yet he’s still requesting me to purchase it?! In the past fish application, he gave me threepossible fish (rainbow trout, sockeye salmon or brown trout)… but this application was a one-path strategy?! I was about to stand my ground against my mentor! …Or was I? …He’d taught me so much; I couldn’t go against him. …And then I found myself talking to myself… which is insane… mainly over a daggon fish.
In the end, I chose to forgo the striped bass. All it gave me was a headache, unstable mind and confusion. I rectified the next day, I would use rockfish instead… that was, until the stupid rockfish was out of stock at the markets. Sooo I decided, I would perpetually visit the seafood section of grocery stores, until I spotted a freaking striped bass, which I would then purchase… That was, until the day I found it (months later at Whole Foods) for the unbelievable price of 60-something bucks! For one fish! That’s when the white towel came out, and I yelled, “THE END, YOU DAMN BASS!” I mean, never would I have guessed I’d have to save up to buy a freaking fish… that’s not even a pet! Goodness grief!
So my dear readers, I don’t know when the heck I’ll be making “A Dome Full of Bass.” I don’t have the slightest idea when this elusive bass will turn up. And when it does, I don’t know when I’ll have about $100 to chuck at the thing. …And that — that— is why I cheated. There was nothing I could do… but skip ahead to another application. Truly; what was I supposed to do?! Mull over the daggon bass forever? Hell no. I needed a good skip, because the next application was how to cook pasta noodles correctly. (I’m between a snore and another headache.) So if I was going to break the law, better go out with a bang! James and I poured over my book… and found the skip worth taking. From page 58… to page 124…
Who has the last laugh now, bass?!