Thursday, September 10, 2009

A Fish Story

I am all tuna-ed out.

My brother E went on a 2-day fishing trip out of San Diego on Monday and hit the motherlode. He caught 12 yellowfin tuna, 2 yellowtail and 2 dorado (mahi mahi), coming home with 72 lbs of fish. Before he even went home to shower or sleep, he was driving around LA, delivering beautiful, vacuum sealed bags of fresh fish to friends and family who would in turn rush to their local sushi bars with it. As he left my house at 2pm, he was on his way from Pasadena to El Segundo, to deliver a load to my mother so she could share with her friends at work. We made every kind of tuna sushi possible last night - nigiri, sashimi, in hand rolls, spicy tuna cut rolls, even spicy tuna on crispy rice (take that Katsuya, I can do it myself!). We are a tekka maki away from mercury poisoning.

He brought over the mahi mahi tonight and we made fish tacos, trying to consume all the fish we can as close to its freshest peak possible. This leads me to one of my all time favorite stories about my mother, which I found I really wanted to share.

E has always loved fishing. In high school, his reward for any major accomplishment was usually a 2 or 3 day fishing trip, often by himself. If he wasn't going on a longer trip, he would often take the 3/4 day boats out of San Pedro alone, working the deck or the galley or cleaning the boat after to avoid paying the boat fees.

He would always bring the entire catch home himself, as a 16-year-old high school student with no part-time job, he wasn't going to pay someone else to clean and fillet his catch. Because he would often clean the boat, we would usually hear E come in the door around 2am, clanging his poles as quietly as he could in the backyard.

When this happened, he would come into the house and whisper to my semi-sleeping mother that he was home and he would tell her what he had caught. It would be 3am and my mother would get out of bed, slide on her shoes and accompany E out to the backyard, where together, by the light of the moon and the back patio, they would clean, descale and fillet E's catch.

Here is the best part: once the fish was cleaned and cut and they were back in the house, E would wash up and mom would cut the raw fish into slices and make a little wasabi. Then they would wake the rest of us, and at 3:00 in the morning, bleary-eyed and barely awake, we would stand at the kitchen counter and eat sashimi.

Keep in mind that this was 1990, not a lot of people in high school were eating sashimi, and certainly none were doing it standing up in their kitchens at 3am, like cows in a pasture, mindlessly chewing their cud. We would finish our sashimi and stumble back to bed, bellies full, and mom would clean up and eventually go back to sleep herself.

Her philosophy was this: that fish was at its peak at 3am, freshly caught and just cleaned, the smell of the ocean still clinging faintly to it. She wanted us to have the best of that fish and it simply would not be the same two hours, four hours, six hours later. We had to eat it right then, whether we remembered it or enjoyed it or not.

People think I'm crazy when I tell this story. They think my mother is crazy and can't imagine that you will notice the difference if you wait until 6am to have sashimi (oh, but you will!). But I love this story. It exemplifies one of the good ways my mother is wacky (we all know there is good wacky, and then there is just plain wack), and I hope that I carry that little bit of wackiness around myself. She wanted us to have the best of everything, and even if she took the sashimi situation to an extreme, I hope that someday my son has a story like this to tell about me. I hope that someday he finds that a silly memory of me is just another example of things we will unthinkingly do to bring the best to those we love.

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