First off, DISCLOSURE: This post has NOTHING to do with the posting of a recipe, but it does have everything to do with life, my life specifically, so if you want to take a break from your own life to laugh at somebody else’s, then read on.
There are two things that I REALLY love in life that have absolutely nothing to do with cooking, my spirituality, or my family, husband, children or others.
I was recently in California visiting my brother and sister-in-law and my beautiful grandniece, KayLynn (whom I refer to as my “MUÑE” (you got that Raquel?). Sorry – a little inside family joke. Anyways, I try to make that trip out to California at least once every other year and when I go, I stay for at least, two weeks. I know what you’re thinking…”man, the visitors after three days start to smell like fish…”. Well, I try to make myself useful – by cooking – and funny you should say fish….
Now anyone who knows me knows this: I love California. No wait, that’s an understatement, I LOVE CALIFORNIA!!!! I mean I love everything about California but I especially love the scenery and I especially love the time difference from the East Coast.
By nature, I believe, I am a habitually and perpetually “late bird”. Therefore, if you know me you also know that I am chronologically challenged, totally deficient in being on time, but that only applies to Eastern standard time. Now in the West Coast, man, I am ALWAYS on time. Yeah my husband thinks this is an insane statement and doesn’t believe one word of this fact: “three hours does make a difference”. That’s all I got to say about that!The second thing I love: GOOGLE! That search engine has saved me from MANY potential cooking disasters in the kitchen. It is undoubtedly the first place I go to when I need HELP in my cooking
Before going to California I promised my sister-in-law’s mother and father, “Mammota” and “Pancho” (as they are are so lovingly called by family) that I would try to re-create for them a recipe that ONLY my mother and grandmother knew how to do: Sancocho de Pescado (Hearty Fish Stew). They remembered that my grandmother and mother were both known for making this hearty thick soup made first with the fish’ head for the rich stock it produces and then the fish itself for the protein it supplies.
My grandmother and mother always said this soup could resurrect Lazarus from the dead because it was filled with so many medicinal ingredients. Indeed, anyone who had or has had this fish soup will proceed to sweat profusely (in a good way)!
But to make this soup, it requires a specific fish, but not just any fish, my mom and grandma made this soup with “bluefish“. They had access to this fish whenever my father went fishing on the Atlantic (in Long Island, New York). What I needed to have done before I opened my BIG MOUTH and promised Mammota that I would make this soup for her with no problem when I got to California, was to have done a search on Google to see if this fish was available in the area I was travelling to.
Are you getting the drift of what happened here? Yup, you got it, this fish is NOT available in California.
As it states in Google, “The bluefish (Pomatomus saltatrix) is the only extant species of the family Pomatomidae. It is a marine pelagic fish found around the world in temperate and subtropical waters, except for the northern Pacific Ocean.”
Too bad I found out that little tidbit when I was already at my brother’s house with Mammota and everyone getting ready for “the” soup.
Oh man, I was in TROUBLE!
Seriously, you do not promise Mammota, Sancocho de Pescado (Hearty Fish Soup) and not come through. Take a look at Mammota and Pancho in the picture below (she’s the one next to my brother who is standing, Pancho is the cool one with the glasses with my nephew, ChiChi, next to him and that’s my beautiful sister-in-law, Damaris)….
Does it look like she’ll take no for an answer? DO NOT LET THAT SMILE FOOL YOU!!!….No just kidding (not really…).I needed to think fast! Pancho had already gone off to the supermarket to search for the now I know it doesn’t exist here in California, Bluefish.
I had to think, think, think….aaacccckkkkk….H-E-L-P!!!!
Wait a minute…..this isn’t bad news, this is GOOD NEWS… after all how am I going to make this soup without the star fish (no pun intended, hehehe – maybe I could get out of this after all and still be considered a hero).
We now interrupt this story for a brief interlude and the reason for my staying in California and not hauling my tail back to Florida – even after finding out that I was in serious trouble because of my BIG MOUTH. It was what I was doing to fill in the time of panic in which I gave myself time to think about what I was going to do about this fish soup “sitchation” (look that word up, you’ll be surprised — I promise it’s a legitimate word).
This here is Miss KayLynn, my little princess, my MUÑE as I like to call her (that’s little doll in Spanish). Yeah, we’ll get back to the problem of the fish soup later. Observe and enjoy the cuteness….
Yeah, I’m totally obsessed with this little one. Who could blame me? Are you wondering about the snapshot of the boots?? Yeah, she dressed herself. And she put her boots on the wrong foot. On another day, she dressed herself again and put on different socks with her little tutu dress.
DON’T YOU JUST LOVE WHEN THEY DO THAT???? I KNOW! ME TOO!!!! 🙂 🙂 🙂
Okay, interlude is over.
So where was I in this fish soup dilemma?…..Oh yeah….I was thinking I was gonna be a HERO and as I was rehearsing my speech in front of the mirror (so I could put the appropriate apologetic, guilt-ridden face), the phone rang. It was Pancho.
I held my breath in anticipation of my speech as he delivered the bad news for them, but good news for me, that there was no bluefish (but then again I already knew that) and as he said that, I did a little jig in the background (cause he couldn’t see me).
Then he shot down my dreams of saying my rehearsed speech to him and Mammota in my ever so apologetic voice, “awww, I really tried and really wanted to make this soup for you and Mammota”, as I would go on to say, “Oh well, I guess the next time we’re in New York” …. (yeah right, me go to New York?…when pigs fly!), “….I promise this will be the FIRST thing I make for you and Mammota”.
And that would be: End. Of. Story.
Yeah, don’t get excited, my life could NEVER be that simple….Nope, he shot my rehearsed response down, with the following words, “I bought another fish that maybe we could use, it’s called “whitefish.” ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~SILENCE~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
After I gulped (rather loudly I might add), I managed to say to him, in a rather puny, dejected voice, “Okay, that’s great Pancho bring it over can’t-wait-to-start-on-it”.
Okay, I hadn’t counted on that one and after pounding my head thinking what I was going to do, I did a further search on Google for a substitute fish for Bluefish versus what he got, whitefish. EUREKA, you say? Nope again. Google stated that mackerel was a substitute for bluefish…..uh, excuse me? I don’t think so, that was simply not going to cut it for this soup. So I searched again. And again. And again. Man this was not going good. Too late to tell Pancho that Whitefish is a mild fish compared to the stronger fish which is bluefish. Seriously, at this point I was trying to find out how much was the flight penalty going to be going BACK to Florida earlier than anticipated (I was only here two days), yeah that was not going to be able to be an option, I had my daughter with me which I would have had to pay another penalty for as well as myself, maybe I could stow her away in the wheels of the plane and act surprised like everybody else when they find her….no, that could turn out to be much worse than not making the soup. Media coverage, JAIL….nope not gonna do that.
Okay, focus Angie, focus. I focused for the next THREE days, inventing excuse after excuse as to why we STILL had not had the fish soup.
The first day Pancho brought over the two whitefish, I cleaned them and took off the heads then I proceeded to simmer the heads for the next four hours. That day was done, clearly we were not having soup that day. Even with simmering the heads that long to make the stock, it did not even come close to the smells that emanated from my mom’s kitchen when she did the same. Of course not, this fish was mild so it didn’t/couldn’t produce those strong smells. Plus, I also noticed that this fish was filled with bones and not big ones, tiny little ones. Here went another problem.
Day two was excused by saying something to the effect of: I have to cook this other meat (I think it was sirloin steaks). My sister-in-law had taken it out three days prior for them to defrost, so they HAD to be made.
Day three (and here I was pushing it), was excused because I came down with something (yeah it’s called self-induced psychosomatic hypochondria).
Day four (D-day, literally). All out of excuses. Had to make this soup today. The night before my sister-in-law showed me a booklet of substitutes so aside from the mackerel, it also stated that kingfish or salmon would also be compatible. I didn’t want Pancho to have to go back to the fish mart so a brilliant idea came to mind. What if I got the stock to be the strong factor and then just dealt with the soup from that point after? That might work, I remembered that I previously saw a concentrated fish stock called Better than Bouillon. If I got that, I figured I’d be halfway there. We had already gotten the other things we needed for sancocho which was the root vegetables this soup takes, the corn, now we needed to get this.
Well…of course what happened? There was no Better than Bouillon for fish. They had chicken and beef but no “fish” base. This does exist as the photo shows:
I was back to hyperventilating – No way was this happening. Day four went down without fish soup.
Day five. All right now, this is getting ridiculous, let’s get this done. My sis-in-law was of the same mind. Mammota was being jovial about the whole thing but I could tell SHE WAS SERIOUSLY getting tired of the “no fish soup today – cause….”. Heck, I’m getting tired of repeating it and I know how everything turned out!
So Damaris set out bright and early to find the fish stock and when she called me to tell me that she had found some in Whole Foods, I was a little apprehensive to start celebrating. What she bought to the house looked like frozen water, yet when you opened the container the smell that wafted from there brought a smile to my face. This possibly could work. I quickly dumped the contents of this container in with the broth that I had made days before. I was off and running! To solve the problem of the tiny bones, I had to get cheesecloth and I’ll spare you the drama we had to go through trying to find cheesecloth (do they sell anything that I use here in California?) so that I could wrap the fish in along with other whole spices and dump the whole bag into the soup so that while this broth cooked and intermingled with my fish stock that Damaris had bought, more flavor would be go into this fish stock.
I also decided instead of using whitefish, to use tilapia instead for the protein factor, the whitefish with all those bones, just was not going to make this fish pleasant to eat. This turned out to be better than I had originally thought it would come out. In the end, everyone including Mammota was happy with the outcome. We had Pancho singing its praises and healthily sweating as he ate (this is a good thing, remember?). If there was a complaint it was that there was too little soup made (yeah the next time (hah, if there is a next time) we would definitely need to use those big soup pots my mom and grandmother used. If you’re going to go through the trouble of this soup, you might as well make A LOT of it.
Learn from my mistake people. If you’re going to promise and commit to something, do yourselves a favor, GOOGLE anything you’re not sure of. Enjoy the pictures of the soup. They certainly have lasted longer than the soup did 🙂