Salmon Dinner from the Bathtub | Yankee Classic Article
Yankee Plus Dec 2015
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I will spare you the details of the misunderstanding. Suffice it to say that the project really began in the laundry room of a comfortable, old-fashioned Maine mansion. In the classic deep double sink, embedded like a pair of champagne bottles in outsize buckets of ice, were two large fish. Two very large fish. One of them measured three feet eight inches. The other was longer. Both were commensurably plump.
The monsters were destined to become cold salmon with green mayonnaise for 70 wedding guests. It was my job to cook them. It was not required that I cook them whole. It wasn’t even suggested, but “the devil made me do it. ”
After all, it stands to reason that anyone not actually possessed would have poached the salmon in pieces, then reassembled the parts. With a bit of decor in appropriate places nobody would be the wiser.
But there’s something about the challenge of cooking creatures that size that excites the latent vanity of even a modest chef. When the chef is not any too modest, and when her employer is also a skilled cook and contemplator of challenges, the result is bound to be something like Poached Salmon a la Bathtub.
The fish were served proudly seamless, glistening with aspic in an enormous wreath of nasturtium flowers — a tour de force of no mean proportions for which we garnered much congratulation.
The inspiration came from dimly remembered stories about how the Indians lived. According to the leader of my old Brownie troop, the Indians had cooked large objects in hollowed logs filled with water. They heated the water by dropping hot stones into it.
We did exactly the same thing, lowering rather than dropping the stones in deference to the bathtub, and adding wine and lemons and such, which the Indians did not.
If you acquire a large fish and wish to follow our example, you will need:
1) A bathtub. It has to be a porcelain one, uncracked and unchipped in the business section, both so that you can scrub it clean enough and so that it won’t melt when you put the stones in. It should be small so as to require the smallest amount of water and seasonings. And it should be close to the kitchen for obvious reasons. (Allow me, on the basis of experience, to suggest that a bathtub on the second floor at the top of a narrow flight of rickety stairs is not a good idea.)
2) Rocks. These should be cobbles, granite, brick, or other explosion-proof material. They shouldn’t weigh much more than five or six pounds, since you must handle them when they’re hot.
3) A support for the fish. This could be a section of bookshelf wrapped well in tinfoil, a large grille from a barbecue unit, or any big sheet of something rigid that isn’t poison and doesn’t weigh much. You need it to support the fish while it cooks and while it cools. It needn’t be exactly fish length, especially if you wind tight enough with
4) Cheesecloth, lots of cheesecloth.
You will need the seasonings that are commonly used with poached fish — lemons, peppercorns, mustard and/ or coriander seeds, celery, carrots, onions, parsley, and, of course, white wine. You can make a proper court bouillon if you are feeling ambitious, but a big fish means a lot of liquid, and it ‘s not really necessary. You will, however, need at least enough of the seasonings to partially stuff the fish.
Be sure there are plenty of tea towels, potholders, and similar articles on hand. Start thinking about a presentation platter. We were able to use the marble top of a Victorian hall table, but only because someone strong enough to lift it happened to be handy. Having someone strong and long armed to help is a good idea in general. Otherwise, just lowering the supported salmon into its waiting bathtub takes a bit of engineering.