My daughter Iris, 4, always used to be interested in helping out with cooking, but lately she's gotten bored. Maybe I told her one too many times to measure the sugar, not eat it. But I think I have a new ploy.
Iris loves fish, and mackerel is her favorite. We typically buy frozen mackerel fillets at the Asian supermarket. Last time, however, Iris pointed out that they sell whole mackerel and suggested we buy that instead. I obliged. When we got home, I flipped through Mark Bittman's Fish, trying to figure out how to clean and cook a whole mackerel.
"Hey Iris," I called. She was in the living room watching TV. "I'm going to clean this fish. Want to help?"
"There'll be fish guts."
"I'll pause!" She appeared in front of me instantly. I slit the fish open and pulled out the viscera. Then we went for the gills, which were somewhat harder to extract. Iris was especially curious about the blood and why the fish's mouth opened when I rinsed it in the sink. When my wife Laurie got home, Iris quizzed her: did she know the color of fish blood?
I roasted the mackerel with lime slices, parsley, shallots, and butter. Iris ate a huge serving and was disappointed that the eyeball wasn't particularly good to eat. She asked how long it took the fish to die after they caught it. "Not long," I speculated.
Now I have to think of the next cooking project gruesome enough to hold the interest of a child obsessed with Greek myths. Tête de veau, perhaps?
About the author: Matthew Amster-Burton lives in Seattle. His work appears frequently in the Seattle Times and Seattle magazine. He also maintains the blog Roots and Grubs. His favorite food is pad Thai.