Sunday, December 17, 2006

Stephanie Alexander’s The Cook’s Companion: W is for whale

A new entry from the upcoming second volume of Stephanie Alexander’s famous Cook’s Companion: W is for whale.

"My first taste of whale came as a girl on the coast at Eden in 1960. My mother had dragged a still-thrashing southern right whale calf from the beach and artfully flayed it with a nine-foot blade. I still recall the dark, slightly oily meat which my mother had lightly sautéed. Magic!

Although Escoffier, in his incomparable 1932 work Foods of the Oceans, Tastes of the Deep, described whale as ‘a giant in both the sea and the kitchen’, it has fallen out of favour with modern taste-buds. There are a variety of reasons for this. Perhaps the foremost is the decline in the availability of properly-prepared fillets. In these busy times, few cooks are prepared to put in the effort required to correctly fillet this vast creature. How if you can find the time, I think you will find the effort well worthwhile. (Alternatively, those of you lucky enough to live in a city with a decent whale butcher, rejoice!)

It is universally known that whales are mammals and not fish but what is less well understood is the difference this makes to the discerning consumer. It does not taste like fish. (Perhaps the closest comparison I can come up with is the flesh of the South American three-toed sloth but even this is not really similar). And there is a great variety amongst the different types of whale meat available: it is easy to tell apart the rough gaminess of the sperm whale from the smoky delicacy of the narwhal or the tangy appeal of the minke from the exquisite melting flavour of the blue whale.

Many of the recipes which follow are from Japan, Russia and Scandinavia where the popularity of whale continues unabated. These recipes also make use of parts such as the eyes, the internal organs and the flukes, parts which Western cooks are inclined to jettison. However, do so at your peril, for some of the greatest prizes are to be found in these unassuming places.

Whale and blue-cheese salad
1 medium sized whale fillet (I prefer blue whale ‘veal’)
4 table-spoons of extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup of sweetened dolphin oil
300g of a mild blue cheese
15 black olives
4 large tomatoes
A large handful of any salad leaves (I prefer arugula)
Freshly ground black pepper

Coat the fillet with oil and sear for three minutes on each side on a hot grill. Put aside. Crumble the blue-cheese in the dolphin oil and combine with the other ingredients except the salad leaves. Slice the whale fillet and arrange on a bed of the greens. Pour the remaining mixture over the salad and serve immediately."


MadameBoffin said...

Personally, I think the taste of whale is much more akin to the flavour of baby panda fillet but that's just me

Anonymous said...

Given your interest in eating whales, you should own a copy of "Extreme Cuisine" by Jerry Hopkins. I contains a recipe for whale and vegetables (for real!)

Anonymous said...

Sick and disgusting support of whaling and its cruel and barberous method of killing - harpooned with explosives that explode inside your body and then whilst still alive, being gutted!

Also to claim that wahelk meat is still popular in Jpaan is a lie - they have a gltu of the stuff as fewer people actually like it.