Orphan’s Feast at Shade’s Hill, Part 1: “Thresher Fish Tails Wrapped in Bacon”

…bowls of bony chicken marinated in cheap almond wine, soft thresher-fish tails wrapped in bacon and soaked in vinegar, and brown bread flavoured with sausage grease. There were also salted peas and lentils as well as bowls of past-ripe tomatos and pears. Poor stuff, but in a quantity and variety most of the Catchfire orphans had never seen before.

-Scott Lynch, The Lies of Locke Lamora

I started my experiments with trying to cook some of the foods from the Gentleman Bastards series this week, and I had at least some success. The thresher fish tails in particular were a pleasant surprise, despite some confusion and fish guts.

First the confusion… When I googled “thresher fish”, everything seemed to come up sharks. It makes sense, given how many sharks are mentioned in the cuisine of Camorr, but I’m not 100% sure that it didn’t refer to another species, or even a fictional one. Now, shark meat is not easy to come by, and it’s not even something I really want to buy, unless I’m sure that the species of shark I’m buying is not a threatened one. So, I did some more googling to try and find some substitutions for shark meat. One that was listed here (and has now disappeared a week later) listed pompano as a substitute, and I found some at the Asian market in town. I now think it was probably not a good shark substitute. Something like farmed sturgeon would have been better, but I haven’t found any here. I also think after further research that the fish I bought was mis-labeled and was actually Japanese Butterfish and not pompano either! So I will probably try this again in the future with a better substitute.

A small fish on a cutting board.
One of my little fishes, before I made a mess of it.

And then the fish guts. The fish were small and came frozen… and whole. I was not expecting that. So. Yeah. I learned a new thing, namely, how to gut a fish. It wasn’t that hard, although I was a bit worried that I hadn’t done it properly and there would be something left in there, and I made a bit of a mess of the fish when I cut the heads off with a knife that should have been sharper. It didn’t really affect the end result too much though I don’t think.

The end result of the recipe was really tasty, regardless of the fish sourcing difficulties. The sweet-and-sour-ness of the vinegar sauce mixed with the smokiness of the bacon almost reminded me of a tangy bbq sauce. The fish’s flesh by itself had a bit of a muddy flavor, but since the sauce was so strong, I think it is a good recipe to deal with fish that has a bit of that kind of flavor. It might also work well for catfish for that reason. The recipe would, I think, be successful with many different types of fish, and to find a final recipe, I will have to try a few more experiments, but I think the recipe as it is is interesting enough to post.

On the less successful side of things, my first attempt at salted peas and lentils ended up getting turned into lentil soup, and the second was thicker but still more of a lentil mash than a dish of distinct peas and lentils. Both were perfectly edible, but not really much for presentation. I’ll be giving that one another try in the future.

A bowl of chicken and lentil mash.
Chicken in almond wine, and salted peas and lentils. Or at least attempts at those. Not good enough for posting recipes yet.

The chicken in almond wine was a bit more of an adventure, and the results I ended up with were not exactly unpleasant, but definitely a bit odd. I’m not really sure where to go with that one. Almond wine is clearly not as common a thing in our world as it is in Camorr. I’ve found a couple places online that sell it (including one, which seems to be the closest to actual almond wine rather than champagne with almond flavoring, and has some rather amusingly shaped bottles) but none that are able to ship to Canada. I made an attempt with mixing amaretto and sweet white wine. The resulting flavor was… strange. Not exactly unpleasant, but really weird. I may have to wait to attempt this one again until I can find a supply of actual almond wine.

Here is my recipe for the “Thresher Tails Wrapped in Bacon”.

A bowl of fish.
Small fish “tails” wrapped in bacon. Not much to look at, really, but it was very tasty.

Thresher Fish Tails Wrapped in Bacon

  • 2-4 “Thresher Fish Tails” (I used small pompano fish, but see my notes above for more information)
  • 1-2 strips of bacon per piece of fish
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup of white wine (I used moscato, if you use a drier wine, perhaps increase the honey)
  • 1 tbsp honey

1. Clean the fish if necessary and remove the heads.

2. Wrap the fish with the bacon, covering from the tail to the cut end.

3. Heat a pan to medium high heat, and then add the bacon wrapped fish. Cook for about 4 minutes a side, not moving the fish in the pan until it is time to flip.

4. Remove the fish from the pan and transfer to a plate. Add the balsamic vinegar, white wine and honey to the pan, and reduce the heat to low. It will hiss and splatter a bit. Stir the mixture around and scrape any bacon off of the bottom of the pan. Cook for a few minutes, until thickened slightly.

5. Serve fish with the pan sauce poured over it.

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