BEST FISH MARKET - 2001
The sea raven is one God-awfully ugly fish, like a cross between an alligator and a catfish, with bulging eyes and teeth like Matt Groening would draw. There it sits, one day, in the case at Coastal Seafoods, and even at $2.99 a pound there's no way in hell people are buying it, let alone eating it. Enter Tim Lauer, the lumbering general manager of Coastal. It's part of the sculpin family, he says, noting that it's a deep-water critter, closely related to the monkfish. In some areas it's a staple food, mostly in France, where it can be a base for bouillon. Then he explains that the sea raven Coastal gets comes mostly from a couple of Rhode Island fishermen, who sometimes catch one or two in their nets, sometimes hundreds. Lauer can't stop himself now: Only 20 percent of the sea raven itself is edible (some members of the salmon family are 70 percent edible, while the grouper is about 50 percent edible), and when the sea raven comes in fillets, he sells most of it to the 80 or so restaurants in town that buy from Coastal. But he will sometimes buy the fish whole nonetheless. "Only in America do people not like to buy whole fish," he explains. "But we have ethnic groups, Asian and African immigrants, even black Americans, who want the whole fish." So sell us on the whole fish, we say. How do we prepare this prehistoric beast for our dinner guests? "Take the fish, cut tiny slits in it at an angle to the bone, and put ginger and lemongrass in it," he explains. The fish should then be rolled in rice flour and cooked in a wok. "The Chinese will add garlic, bean paste, soy sauce, and wine. It's delicious." Sold!