Summer Break #2: Chicken of the Sea, Greek-Stylie

Peter and I were ambling down the boardwalk in Eressos, on some half-baked errand or other, when we saw…a bloodbath. Flashing knives. Bright-red gore.

At first, I thought Costa was butchering a sheep, right there on a restaurant table.

We got closer and saw that the carcass was, in fact, a tuna.

I’ve seen guys cutting up tunas at Hunts Point fish market in the Bronx, but that was a pretty tidy operation. This was a sloppier affair.

Just working on lunch

Costa had bought the whole fish directly from a random fisherman who’d caught it not far offshore. The guy was someone from another island, Costa said, where they’re experts at catching very big fish. (On Lesvos, they’re masters of sardines.)

He'd used a very, very big hook.

Costa had hired the strolling vendor, a Bangladeshi guy who normally walked along the beach, to help him cut it up. He’d put aside his stack of cheap fedoras and board of sunglasses, and was now up to his wrists in tuna meat. He looked pretty pleased.

An older woman was there collecting the scraps for her cat. “Do I need to cook it first?” she asked.

Costa laughed, in his husky way, through his beard. “No!” he declared, and sliced two chunks off the loins he was slicing up. He thrust them at us, to demonstrate.

When you look up 'raw' in the dictionary, this picture is there.

I’d like to say it was the most transcendant sushi ever, but it was almost too intense. Gamey. It reminded me a little of the whale we ate in Norway a decade ago, like they were from the same murky depths. Serious stuff–it tasted like you could live off one scrap for a week. But a cat would be delighted.

The crime scene

Check out those yellow bits in the photo above. Yup: yellowfin tuna. It never occurred to me that those words, which I’ve read only on can labels, meant something concrete, in real life. Somewhere out there in the sea is a fish with little blue bits on his fins too.

We left Costa to clean up. Remarkably, everyone else at the restaurant was placidly enjoying their lunches, not batting an eye. If they’d been butchering a sheep, of course, the tourists at least would’ve run off screaming. Why are fish so different?

Do they not bleed?

We returned that night. Two kilos of tuna, for our party of 12–we barely made a dent in the full 55 kilos the fish had weighed when hooked.

Grilled. Squeeze of lemon. Salt. Pepper. Cooked all the way through–none of that Asian-seared business.

It was perhaps the most amazing fish I’ve ever eaten. With heat, the gaminess dissipated. The fat oozed through the meat, which flaked.

I saw exactly what all that canned tuna was meant to be. And it sure ain’t chicken.

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