I love fish and chips. I know it’s not surely not the healthiest meal a man could eat on planet Earth, but hey, sometimes you just gotta live on the edge.
I try to eat reasonably well. I want to hunt, fish and roam the hills as long as possible, to the full complement of time allotted me by the Great Spirit, God, or whoever manages these matters of life expectancy.
I try to do my part, hitting the swimming pool hard three times a week, pedalling a few miles here and there, and shouldering the odd packsack. Nutrition is a huge part of keeping in shape and living as long as your lot in the heredity lottery sees fit. You can only play the cards you are dealt.
I’ve always figured that one treat a week is the way to go. If you deny yourself foods that you’ve loved all your life, and crave, then it’s quite likely that your healthy eating plan will eventually derail. It’s tough to stay on the wagon with temptation staring you down at every turn.
You go in the station to pay for gas and what’s surrounding you at every angle your eyes could possible turn — that is, besides the barrage of lottery tickets and games of chance? Junk food, sweet and salty treats of every sort imaginable, are strategically placed to tempt you.
It takes a strong will and steadfast fortitude not to purchase a side order of Mars or Big Turk, maybe Doritos and Coke with every petrol fill-up. Mars bars are my nemesis, the line I cannot cross without throwing all caloric caution to the gusting wind.
I’m generally chowing down on the healthy stuff all week, but Saturday evening is treat night. If I’m going to have a deep-fried, battered delight or chocolate fix, that’s the time. I’m usually hunting or fishing on Saturdays and generally running low on energy by evening. That’s the ideal occasion for a heaping plate of the good old greasy stuff. Sometimes it’s chicken and chips, other times it’s fish I crave.
Deep fried cod is my absolute favourite greasy spoon, guilty culinary pleasure, but it doesn’t always measure up. The problem with fish and chips is that it has to be fresh if it’s to tickle the palate to its full potential. There’s a world of difference — no, a universe — dividing fresh caught cod from stuff that’s been sitting in the freezer for months. I only order fish and chips when the cod’s fresh.
Last Saturday night, I ordered my fish and chips from a local takeout. I normally ask if the fish is fresh, but given the time of year I just assumed it would be. I was sadly mistaken. My treat was OK at best.
I’m a bit of a self proclaimed expert on fish and chips, and by my estimation this cod was in the freezer at least several months. I was not a happy man. I had been thinking all day about golden brown crispy fish pieces, served with a mound of homemade french fries.
I vowed that next week I would not suffer such deep disappointment. It would be Sept. 21, the first day of the autumn recreational cod fishery. Goldie would prepare me my fish and chips from cod caught that very morning in Spaniard’s Bay Harbour.
The first light of day brightened my living room through an east-
facing window while I sipped my Kenyan java. There was a time I would go fishing on the sea without coffee, but not anymore. Goldie and I walked down to our wharf just as the sun kissed the highest trees in Bay Roberts. We were running a little late.
“We’d be out there now if you never had to sit and drink that coffee.”
She doesn’t share my love of the coffee bean and would have me drinking instant from a thermos at the tiller. It just isn’t going to happen.
“If the fish are so scarce we have to race for them, I’ll go sea trouting.”
That was the end of it. The banter over coffee subsided to the whine of my outboard and the beauty of a flat, calm morning on Conception Bay.
When we reached Madrock Ledge, boats were already leaving for home. My sonar suffered from a corroded connection and refused to light up. My knowledge of landmarks is a little fuzzy from relying on electronics for too many years, so I decided to fish where other boats were gathered. I spotted a friend of mine and pulled alongside to see how they were doing with the fish. They had a double hook-up just as I shut my motor down.
“My fish finder isn’t working; any fish on the go?”
I guess it was a dumb question considering their effort in pumping those stout cod rods. “You’ve found them,” says Gary, somewhat winded from tussling with a hefty cod.
Those two fish filled the boy’s quota and they started their engine and motored for home, leaving Goldie and me to tangle with what was left of the school.
here were plenty, thankfully for me, for I would surely have gotten lectured on the perils of my coffee habit once again.
Just as my lure found bottom a fish grabbed it and set in motion a long process of heaving and reeling. There were lots of fish, but they were covered by nearly 200 feet of water. That’s a long haul on fat heavy cod that would much prefer to stay on the bottom.
Goldie hooked one before I had mine to the surface. She could barely move it, but settled in to do her part. With two fish in the boat, Goldie was smiling, all thoughts of coffee delays evaporated in the light easterly swell that gently rocked our boat. The fish kept coming and in no time we had filled our quota. It was the best day we’d had cod fishing in quite some time.
Optimism prevailed for the autumn 2013 fishery. There would be salt cod in plenty for Christmas Eve.
There would also be fish and chips for supper. The lily white cod loins would never see the inside of a freezer. I lit the propane camp stove in the backyard and heated up a pot of cooking oil. Goldie used the deep fryer in the kitchen for the fresh cut fries. I monitored the oil temperature in the yard until it reached 350 F. If you deep fry fish in a simple pot, do it outdoors, and use an oil thermometer. Don’t let the oil go over 400. There’s a thin red line between crispy batter and a fat fire.
Goldie prepared a beer batter for the cod and we dropped succulent fresh fish into the bubbling oil. In mere minutes, golden brown fish pieces emerged.
There’s nothing in this world more delicious and satisfying than deep-fried fresh cod. And when you catch it yourself, I think it tastes even better. We’re going on the water again tomorrow morning. Maybe I’ll have a feed of cod’s heads for Sunday supper.
Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay, fishes and wanders the outdoors at every
opportunity. He can be contacted