You might not know it from this blog, but I love cooking and eating as well as thinking about cooking and eating.
To prove that I am not totally cerebral about food, and to preface a post I am preparing about fish, I’m going to share a treat I give myself a couple of times a year: kippers for breakfast.
A kipper, as you may know, is a herring that has been split, gutted, salted, and smoked. It was long a favorite in the British Isles for breakfast, tea, or supper, and, I understand, after falling out of favor in the late twentieth century, is enjoying a revival.
I wouldn’t try ordering them in Summer when the temperature in Austin, Texas tends to hover around 100 degrees Fahrenheit. In November and February, I feel fairly confident that second day delivery in an ice pack is safe.
Flesh side out, well that perhaps a little more menacing.
Half a kipper with a slice or two of my home made bread does me nicely for breakfast, since the flavor of kippers goes quite a long way.
So I snip off the heads and the tails and then snip up the middle of the fish to create four halves. Three go into a ziploc bag to be refrigerated for the coming days.
On the remaining half goes a nice dollop of good butter and a covering of plastic wrap. After a minute and a half on 50% power in the microwave, the butter has melted into the kipper juices and the kipper is heated through. It leaves, wonder of wonder, no smell in the kitchen, and hence no complaints from the family.
Now for the grapple factor, a term that I have borrowed from Fuchsia Dunlop, author of fine books on Chinese cuisine, who learned it from her father. But just as Ginger Rodgers did everything that Fred Astaire did backwards and in high heels, being British, I grapple not with my hands but at one remove with a knife and fork. The knife slides in at a shallow angle just above the tail, allowing me to zip out the backbone and the fine bones attached to it, and fold them over to the left of the plate.
Ah ha, a mouthful of the main tranche of flesh, pale and flaky, then a bite of bread. Three or four mouthfuls later and it’s time to slide the knife under the bones on the other side of the fish and, yes, to resort to the hands to pick out some of the whiskery bones.
Almost done. Close to the skin along the middle of the body runs the best bit of all: a slim stripe of dark, melting, almost black flesh that can be peeled off with the knife. A little scraping of the bones, the construction of a neat pile of bones and skin on the side of the plate, a meticulous sopping up of butter and juices with bread, and its all over.
Except that is, for a final bite of bread with good bitter marmalade as a palate cleanser.
After this, I don’t need to eat until dinner.
By the way, if you live in the US and like kippers or you want to try them, I get mine from Scottish Gourmet USA, whom I have found very reliable. They source them from John Ross Jnr of Aberdeen. I believe you can also get good Canadian kippers. Skinless boneless ones will do in a pinch though they are never as flavorful. Canned ones, well let’s not go there.