Monday, January 25, 2021

Les dangers du poisson grillé

The best fish I have ever eaten was a marvelous plate of swordfish at Hugo's Lighthouse in Cohasset, Massachusetts. The worst was some dreadful mackerel from a sushi sampler at Yagura Ichiban in L.A.'s Little Tokyo. In between, there have been many other fish dinners, and fortunately, they've typically been on the good side. 

Being married to a Bostonian gives me the occasional opportunity to sample really good Atlantic seafood, and having been raised in Memphis, I absolutely adore a plate of fried catfish and hush puppies. (To be honest, I'm really hooked on Captain D's as well.) All fish is brain food, or so they say. Some people even go whole hog and load themselves up on fish oil for one reason or the other. If the capsules weren't the size of a bus, I'd probably take them myself.

And so it happens that from time to time, and not very often at that, we prepare our own seafood at home. This most often results in a delectable meal, pictures of which either or both of us will promptly post on Facebook or Instagram. But not always.

Years ago before we had children, Karen and I decided one evening to grill some kind of innocuous white fish out on a little Weber tabletop grill that we had procured while testing the waters of back yard grilling. It was a neat little device, and it used a single propane tank, the kind you would use to power a lantern. Everything was going well with the fish grilling until I tried to power off the gas and remove the tank from the grill. I discovered that the valve on the propane tank had not closed; indeed, a small flame had erupted from the tank, and I was unable to extinguish it. In something of a panic, I tossed the tank into the back yard and immediately called the Roswell fire department.

It is worth noting that in those days (the early 1980s), the city of Roswell was still a relative outpost from the city of Atlanta, and perhaps because of this, it had its own volunteer fire department. Hence, any fire call would be answered by a plethora of vehicles, some of which, such as pumper trucks and hook and ladders, were the vehicles of the trade, whereas others were pickup trucks with makeshift sirens and lights, driven in many cases by good ol' boys with the very best of intentions. Within minutes of making my call, trucks started to arrive. And arrive. And arrive. Soon, our street was full of vehicles of all kinds, and the neighbors had come out of their houses to see what had happened. 

An official looking fireman rushed up to us and asked what had happened. I answered, "I was grilling fish." He smiled, then I told him what had happened with the propane. He donned a heavy-duty protective suit, then accompanied me to our back yard, where the lone little propane tank lay flaming. I was, of course, a bit embarrassed by all this attention, and I indicated as such to him, but he told me that I had done the right thing, because occasionally, these small propane tanks explode, producing shrapnel. He managed to put out the flame, but the propane continued to leak from the tank, so he took it back to the front yard and placed it at the edge of our driveway, which sat at the top of a hill, visible to anyone who passed on the street.

We thanked the fire crew, and they went on their way. The little propane tank continued to leak for another two days, so we kept an eye on it, as did many of our neighbors, I'm sure.

We successfully grilled fish many more times until one night in 1995, when we decided to experiment with the somewhat dated Jenn-Air grill that was in the kitchen of our current home. We were leasing at the time, awaiting the sale and closing of our previous house, and owing to the situation, we were trying to be very careful with the fixtures of our (hopefully) new home, just in case things didn't work out. Many years had passed since the Roswell Fish Incident, and perhaps we had let our guard down a bit, but the important thing to note is that our intentions were good. We were a recently relocated family, trying in earnest to feed our two young daughters a healthy and delicious grilled fish meal.

Initially, everything went well. The fish sat sizzling, looking for all intents and purposes like the perfect meal, when suddenly, flames erupted, licking at the bottom of the cabinets above. In a panic, I reached for the nearest fire extinguisher. (One thing to note here -- in my 40 years, I had never used a fire extinguisher.) I pointed the nozzle of its red cylinder at the range top and squeezed the handle, at which point a giant cloud of powdery-looking chemicals filled the kitchen. Karen yelled to me that she wanted me not to spray the fish, because it was expensive. Just to be on the safe side, she wiped it with a paper towel, and the whole thing was done. We transferred the fish to a safer cooking alternative, and we all sat down to a nice meal. No one grew a third eye, so I believe we removed all the chemicals.

We still grill fish, but under closely monitored conditions. The kids made good grades in school, and I hope that at least some of that is owing to brain enhancement from the fish that we so diligently tried to serve them. I'm just glad that we didn't set ourselves on fire in the process. 

Happy grilling, y'all.