Post #578 A Meal of the Slithery Kind

June 30, 2018 at 6:56 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Snakes, and their aquatic counterparts eels, have never figured as a major component in my life.  I’m not afraid of snakes, but I have a healthy respect for them.  It’s a “live and let live” relationship.  Even if I find one inside, I generally don’t kill it; I try to herd it outside.  Where I grew up, snakes (mostly the of the killer variety) were just a fact of life.  You got used to it.  My mom never got used to it.  In truth, there were only four kinds of snakes that ever bothered her:  big ones, little ones, dead ones, and live ones.

There was a time when I was in high school and my brother and I were walking home from the bus stop.  We walked into the house to find my mom a dithering basket case huddled on the couch.  Mom was the most fearless person I knew, so to see her like this stopped my in my tracks.  Turned out my little brother had kept a snake for a pet and it had gotten loose.  Mom found it, quite by accident, as she was walking down the hall to the laundry room and the snake was slithering up the hall to whatever it could find.  I put mom to bed, called dad at work (who replied in his deadliest tones) and started straightening the house up.

Dad arrived soon after with bags of fast food hamburgers and fries.  We all sat to eat and as my brother sat down, dad said, “No, not till you find that snake.”  A couple of hours later, after my school work was done, I started looking for it too, but dad nixed that idea quickly and succinctly.  “No you’re not.”  My brother did eventually find the snake around two in the morning and set it free, whereupon dad made him finish off the cold burgers and fries.  His lesson was learned, though.  He never brought another wild critter into the house again.  That I knew of.

One time, when Partner/Spouse and were hiking during the weekend of our commitment ceremony, he exhibited one of his superpowers: levitation.  We were in a national park along the seaside walking an asphalt path.  We were talking about nothing in particular.  I was a seasoned hiker and backpacker so while we were enjoying the path and nature, I was scanning the path behind and ahead.  I noticed a stick in the path that looked odd.  I put my hand on his shoulder to stop him.

“Wait a second,” I said.  I walked slowly and heavily toward the stick which lifted its head and slowly started to slither away.

Upon which Partner/Spouse levitated about 500 yards down the path.  We still talk about it today.

The aquatic variety of snake, the eel, I don’t have as much experience with.  I know that people eat them a lot.  I’ve read loads of different ways to prepare them.  But I’ve never had opportunity (or desire) to make them or eat them so I don’t know much about how they taste.

However, one time while I was in China, I was walking through a local market with a colleague.  We had already seen the textiles and electronics, and we were making out way to the fresh fruits and veggies.  To get there, we needed to walk through the fish market.  The thing about fish markets is people think they smell bad.  That’s not true.  As long as the fish is fresh, there is no rank odor.  At least not in my opinion.  It simply smells like fresh fish.  I find that butcheries smell worse, at least, to me.  So I was enjoying seeing what was available locally and trying to identify the various types of fish, largely unsuccessfully.

We saw vats of fish still swimming; we saw trays of whole fish gutted and scaled; we saw trays of gigantic fish cut into family sized portions.  We saw crabs by the bushels; we saw mounds of shellfish and bivalves.  And we saw aquariums full of eels.  It looked like there were more ells than the water could support.  And while we watched, people were snapping them up as quickly as the vendors could get them out of the water.  The Rule (see Post #3) dictates that if several thousand people are enjoying something, it’s not something I should be turning my nose up at.  But I didn’t have the opportunity to try any at the time, or since.  But my mind was sort of made up as I watched three or four eels swimming as hard and as desperately as they could in about two inches of water in a gutter in a misbegotten attempt for freedom.  I know I saw two escape.  Don’t know about the others.

The veggie market was nice.

So what’s all this got to do with cooking?  My mind works strangely sometimes (okay, I’ll fess up, most of the times) and for some reason, recently, I was thinking about a class I took in high school.  You all know I grew up in the desert of the southwest, and I was interested in learning all I could about the desert and the animals and plants and survival.  So I took a course in desert biology.  I found it fascinating.  The teacher outfitted the classroom as a lab and there were examples of local flora and fauna all over the place.  There were even live rattlesnakes.  The once nearest my desk hated me for some reason.  It would be completely docile until I sat down.  Then it would spend the next 50 minutes buzzing its tail and glaring at me.  It was like that the whole semester I was in that class.

One day, towards the end of the semester, the teacher had a couple of older students come for a demonstration.  They had a couple of dead, skinned, and gutted rattlesnakes and an electric frying pan.  I watched entranced as they sectioned the beast, tossed it in flour and set them aside.  Then they heated oil in the frying pan and fried up the rattlers until they were golden brown.  Each person got a couple of pieces of rattler to try.

Tasted like chicken.  Seriously.

But what that showed me is that anywhere you are, there is good food to be had as long as you’re not afraid to try it.

After I was finished, I looked at that other snake buzzing and glaring at me and thought, “You just watch out, bub!”

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