Fish Expert Trevor Corson on Quasi-Fish
As one of our leading popular writers on seafood (he's the author of The Secret Life of Lobsters and, most recent, The Zen of Fish: The Story of Sushi), Trevor Corson has done a gazillion interviews and op-ed bits exploding sushi myths and revealing the truth about wasabi. He knows everything there is to know about eating sushi, omakase traditions and soy sauce usage. Though we recognize that's his forte, Serious Eats wanted to hear his thoughts on quasi-fish. The kind that, well, doesn't really come from the sea. C'mon, Trevor, spill it. You were a child who hated fishy flavors once, too.
What'd you eat instead? Childhood snacks?
I grew up in America in the 1970s, which as you know was pretty much the pinnacle of humanity's culinary appreciation of fish. While spending every childhood summer growing up on a small Maine island, surrounded by the sea—and there were fish everywhere—some of those fish lying around in kitchen cupboards were actually in paper bags. Yes, those were goldfish. I'm pretty sure the Pepperidge Farm brand? More technically I guess, they're referred to as crackers. They were awesome.
So you were a big fish-eater early on?
Yeah, and those summers, my buddies and I would ride our bikes to the store in the center of the island and buy fish. They were red, and kind of gooey. You know, like gummy bears? I'd have to say they were candy. Swedish Fish candy, in fact.
Shoot, did you ever eat real fish?
Good lord, looking back on it, we were surrounded by the sea, but hardly ate the real stuff. It seems like no one did, not even the fishermen on the islandthey were eating steaks and pork chops. Although, I think there was a recipe for meatloaf made with Goldfish crackers sprinkled on top. [Wow, such a perfect, unsolicited allusion to meatloaf on National Meatloaf Appreciation Day! Can we take a moment to appreciate that? OK, back to interview.]
Seriously, if any of us were actually eating real fish, it'd be chunks of fish cooked beyond taste and soaked in hot milk, a form of eating that many people still refer to as chowder. Americans in the 1970s had no clue how to appreciate fish! The Corson family was certainly no different.
What about Gorton's frozen fish sticks ? Did you eat those too?
Oh, gross. My mother always stuffed our freezer at home with boxes of those things, because it was one of the few foods she could get my brother to eat.
A Corson boy that didn't like fish?
It's funny, because he hated eating actual fish. And to be honest, I did too-- even the fish sticks kind. I never ordered fish dishes in restaurants growing up.
Maybe it was the fishiness factor? Kids seem to develop a gag reflex aversion to that.
It was definitely the fishiness factor. The thing was, we were missing crucial information. None of us had any idea that a fresh piece of fish doesn't smell or taste fishywe'd never experienced such a thing. So imagine what it was like for me as a teenager, the first time I went to another islandJapanand was served sashimi! Really, that's the transformation we've all gone through as a nation.
Now there are sushi bars everywhere!
Exactly! I mean, they're even in Peoria, Illinois.
I'm sure even in Peoria, they consume their fair share of Pepperidge Farm snacks and Swedish Fish, too.