We end the morning in the fish market’s kitchen, where it’s warm. Sakata has good news. He has located an ayu.
The fish, though flown in from Japan,is still so firm, clear-eyed, and gleaming fresh, it appears lacquered.“It looks just caught,” says McGee. “Its mucus layer is completelyintact. Let’s see if I can get the gills to open up a little bit,” hesays, gently lifting the gill flap. “The gills are often the first partof a fish to go. Their red turns brown with oxidation. And since gillsare full of bacteria, because that’s where the water is filtered, theycan generate unpleasant aromas. So let’s take a sniff.”
He puts his nose to the gills, which are a healthy bright red.
“Ah, I think I smell the melon!” he exclaims. “Can you smell it? I’ve been reading about this fish for years, in the abstract, because I’ve never seen it in a market,” he says in a rush. “In Japan,they’ve analyzed the aroma, because that’s what people say they valuemost about this fish, and they’ve found some of its compounds are exactly the compounds you find in melons and cucumbers.”
“He knows more about this fish than me,” Sakata says.
“That’swhat’s so cool,” says McGee. “Once somebody points out to you that thisfish smells like watermelon, all of a sudden there’s another dimensionto the experience of eating it.”
Whichwe do then and there—the fish is simply sprinkled with sea salt andgrilled whole. Glenn Sakata splits the fish open like a book, and we goat its mild, surprisingly soft white flesh with chopsticks, enjoyingevery last sweet morsel. Ayu, the sweetfish. “Who could ask foranything more?” says Harold McGee.
On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen
An excerpt from the newly revised book by Harold McGee
Copyright 1984, 2004.
To be published by Scribner, a division of Simon & Schuster.