Gimme 4 Porgies, HeadsOff&Split

[ed note: this is one of my entries for Anthony Bourdain’s Medium Raw Essay Challenge. Go Here to vote for me!]

I’m covered in squid ink and salmon blood, the mildly caustic cephalopod excreta giving my forearms a nice little rash. I’m super fucking hungover and arguing with this lady is not on my list of shit to do today.

It’s one of those days where I don’t remember getting to work but I opened the store–laying out the trays of flounder fillets, catfish loins and the tuna steaks, their red flesh luminescent like abalone shells. For once I’m looking forward to the fillet box full of whole squid waiting to be broken down. Put on the radio, position my coffee, get to work: no thinking necessary. As soon as my uncle gets back from Fulton around ten, I can start thinking about what we’re doing for lunch.

Today I’m thinking grilled shrimp with avocado slices on the Portuguese rolls from the half-assed bread store. Slice pop scrape. Head off, guts out, skin off, make sure the spine’s out. My arms move mechanically, working through 100 pounds of squid. Maybe I’ll whip up some sort of aioli for it; grab some roasted peppers from the case. Steal some bacon from the pot rendering for the clams casino. Throw it on the grill. That sounds good. I stop to idly investigate the squid beak I just squeezed out of a head. I see a customer and emerge from behind the five-foot-tall stainless-backed gut board.

“How can I help you ma’am?”
“Do you have those little Portuguese octopus?”
“Yup, $8.99/pound.”
“Good, I’ll take two of the smallest ones. How long should I boil those?”
I ponder for a moment, possibly a moment too long, my undoing. “Like 45 minutes should do it. Check every five minutes in the last bit of cooking.”

“FORTY-FIVE MINUTES? They’ll be like rubber! I’ve only ever done three!” A man standing next to her nods in grave concurrence as he asks my colleague if he can try the Italian seafood salad.

I sigh. “You can do three minutes if you want, but you have to let the tissue break down.”

“Let me talk to Ralphy, is he back there?” She cranes her neck at an impossible angle to see inside the walk-in. I gruffly summon my uncle from stacking and icing the day’s delivery. I’m not above admitting I’m wrong, but at this point I’m 18 and never wrong. See how that works?

“Relax Moe, I got her. It’s not worth getting upset about.” But you know what? It is worth it. No matter how rationally my zen-like mother’s brother explains the cooking process to this charming example of Long Island follicle construction, she’s going to assume we’re both wrong because her mother did it differently 43 years ago. Fuck it, Ralph will talk her down.

I slam a pile of U-12s on my side of the gut board to get ready for lunch once the squid is done. Safe, back in my quiet place.


About chris

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