The Wild New York Salmon That Never Cooks

January 2016

I definitely hear the sizzling from my warm bed— decently far away from the kitchen, and I still blatantly refuse to leave my room to actually take a look at the crime scene I created with my own hands. I do not have the energy to face what I have done — let alone the energy to fix it. I sink more into my bed and close my eyes, hoping that assuming the role of a blind-monkey would help.

Yet, I can’t play the part: I can neither turn off my ears nor my nose. Sensations somehow find a way to enter my body as the sizzling sneaks underneath my door along with a smell too familiar, a smell of failure, or of a mediocre dinner that is not much appreciated after a long day at work. Immediately, the daunting image of what awaits me on the pan occupies my head. I curl up in my bed to perhaps think less, to feel less of a guilt, but the smell, being the sneaky guest it is, taps on my shoulder and tells me to grow up a little, to accept that maybe I just can’t cook a salmon.

Whole Foods works in mysterious ways, which brings me to why I would buy salmon in the first place. The stores exists all around the country, but it only feels like a cult in the City. In Providence, Rhode Island, for example, you can walk into Whole Foods and instantly know that you have walked into a market that takes itself too seriously for where it is. You look down on everything that has the “Organic” label or has a fancy package just because the 20 cent apple was peeled by some New Englander early in the morning and is now $4.

Usually, you run into a few friends who complain about how expensive the store is. A social exchange ends with laughter when someone reminds all that at least mom and dad are paying for groceries until graduation. As a pleasant surprise, you sometimes also see classmates who fanatically claim they rarely go to Whole Foods, since they just prefer to order food on Foodler, but feel like they have to do some grocery shopping once in a while. For some, unfortunately, freshman 15 becomes senior 25.

This doesn’t happen in New York. In New York, you can never feel like you are better than any product in the vicinity of Whole Foods; the grandeur of the place, its ambiance and the people inside do not let you. Its premise sucks you into a world where healthy is the only way out, so you bow down outside of Whole Foods and pray to the gods for the organic in the middle of everything that is not. You transform into an advocate of the healthy and the organic — a change that boosts your New-Yorker points by the same amount as getting a membership to a fancy gym. You enter and you mysteriously belong.

“The salmon is on sale,” says one of the employees behind the huge display of fish, “if you want”. Is that a question or a demand, I don’t understand, but I realize that I must have looked at the fish so desperately that poor guy felt like he had to offer a helping hand. I look at him and smile as if I had already been considering buying some of the $30 per pound organic fish from an X Nordic country. Admiring my own genius, I decide to slowly make my way down the display where the cheapest fish reside: the wild salmon.

I make faces at every single fish whose name I don’t understand but price I observe as too expensive until I stop at the salmon on sale. Maybe I force myself into believing this, but in the moment, it looks significantly different than all the cheap salmons I have bought before — it is not a farm salmon, it is a wild salmon. It looks juicier, thicker and its voluptuous pink makes my stomach growl.

The same guy, this time hesitantly, approaches me again: “Can I help you with anything ma’am?” I nod and point at the relatively cheaper wild salmon: “2 pounds of that, please”. While carrying my bags to the J train, I find out that 2 pounds of salmon is actually a lot.

I have been eating salmon at least once a week ever since that day, or eating something “resembling” a salmon. Every single time I try to cook the poor fish, it burns from both sides and doesn’t cook in the middle. Soon enough, I start hating its pink color and chop the salmon into tiny pieces to make sure that its pink fades away and is mildly edible for a carnivore like me who lives on the peak of very-very-well-done.

Practice makes perfect, I tell myself, but the more I practice, the more my slices suffer. Eventually, I give up. I turn down the oven one day and go to my room to hide. I silence my inner voice and decide that if I put enough goat cheese on anything, it will taste all right.

I stand up and follow the trails of my broken salmon into the kitchen. I find it indulging in its solitude, sizzling in a surprising pattern. The meat’s grease pops and then waits a few seconds before it pops and scares me again. Its faded pink, I see, is a sign of edibility but also a white flag in the language of wild salmons. It gave up, too. I take out the couscous I made a week ago from the fridge as a side for my dish. I pour a chunk of goat cheese on the fish and eat it all until there is only that one grain of couscous on the plate.

It is okay, it is me.

Somedays I wonder if the person I will end up with is going to complete all my missing pieces: a tidy, patient, calm, rational cook. What if he doesn’t? What if he is worse than me? What if he burns the salmon while defrosting it, because he doesn’t know that to defrost, you actually have to press the defrost button and not the “express cook”? Or what if he is fine with the uncooked salmon and joke about how it’s basically sushi without rice and seaweed; aka, raw fish?

I compromise. It really doesn’t matter as long as we clean up the dishes together — which is the actual part that I dread. When we are finally done with all the chores, I hope he offers to open the window before I even say it, just to make sure that the fishy, bitter smell goes away.

Because, I know, sometimes the fan I turn on is simply not enough.

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