Sunday, August 10, 2008

Zen and the art of Fish Filleting

The experiment was conducted in the kitchen Laboratory. The specimen looked at was a Striped Bass caught by our instructor the day before in Boston Harbor. (Just kidding) This particular bass is of unknown origin, but probably came from the Chesapeake Bay. However, Striped Bass are known to get around. Some external observations: The bass had 8 lateral lines on the external surface. There was also a spiny dorsal fin with about 6 spines. A more posterior dorsal fin closer to the tail yielded a softer texture, and had another softer spine. Something interesting to note are the differences in fishing rules for fish caught in different regions. In the Chesapeake, fish can only be eaten if they are under 25 inches long. This is due to chemicals called PCBs that bio-accumulate in the dark, fatty meat of the fish. Anything under 25 inches is safer to eat. If one still worries, the fatty portion of the bass can always be trimmed. In Boston Harbor, Stripers can only be eaten if they are over 25 inches in length. This is to ensure a healthy population of bass is kept. The larger bass will have most likely spawned, and this protects the population from over fishing. Now for the fun part...

Our professor filleted the fish by first making an incision just behind the gill slit. He easily cut along the backbone of the fish, moving anterior to posterior, being particularly careful to stay above the spine. He also had to be careful not to puncture the intestines of the fish, as this would render the fillet inedible. Once the first fillet was cut, he let some of the students take a hack at it. The next area to be cut I can only describe as the fish "Cheeks", or the facial meat. This is the best meat to make sashimi with, as some of our students realized. After the edible meat was cut, we took a look at some of the fish's internal organs. The contents of the stomach were empty, meaning the fish had already digested its last meal before it was caught. This fish was also female. It had an empty and fully developed egg sac, which means it had most likely spawned this last season. The bristle like gills were bright red, and the heart was a small pinkish organ the size of a marble. The liver was dark brown, and looked similar to a human liver in color and texture. (I was unclear of the shape, as it got a little messed up during the dissection.) After the dissection, students got to take home some fillets. Unfortunately, I don't eat fish, so I didn't take any home. After telling my roommates this story, they were a little upset I did not take a fillet to cook for them! Thanks for everything, I had a great time.

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