Dinnertime Disasters

From a culinary standpoint, I was having a good weekend. I had a guest who had some dietary restrictions; to wit, no saturated fats at all, minimal unsaturated fats, low cholesterol foods only. Since I, typically, am someone who starts nearly every recipe with “Take a cup of heavy cream and…” I had to do a little more planning to get the weekend’s meals ready.

I settled on primarily Japanese cuisine, on the theory that I could get the needed ingredients, and had a variety of dishes that met the low-fat requirements. Making dashi is always fun and easy, and miso soup is always appreciated. I also took the opportunity to try some things I hadn’t done before. Every time I go to Chaya, they are out of kimpira, so I made it myself to find out what it was like (it was yummy).

I also picked a recipe out of Tokiko Suzuki’s book Japanese Homestyle Cookin g for Pomfret broiled in Saikyo-way, a miso and sake mixture. Knowing how Suzuki is a stickler for procedure, I was careful to follow her instructions religiously, to the letter. I was somewhat suspcious of her instructions to salt the fish (and later, clean off the salt) before sandwiching the fish between saikyo-wai covered cheesecloth and preserving it for two days, but I trusted her. I admit I departed from her brief in one way: I decided to skip the “place the filet on a chysanthemum leaf” presentation. The dish turned out bad. Not “unpleasant,” not “unfortunate,” but a complete and utter culinary calamity, salty to the point of being inedible. Amusingly, I had bought a nice filet of bacalhao a few days earlier as well, and I’m pretty sure I would have ended up with something more edible had I just soaked that filet for a couple of hours and then broiled it. (“But don’t you have to soak bacalhao for 2 days before enough salt is leached out so that it’s actually edible?” I hear you ask. Yes. That’s my point.) I forced myself to choke it down as punishment for serving my guests something I hadn’t tried successfully first. I was fairly mortified.

So either Suzuki-san’s recipe leaves something to be desired or more likely I, being illiterate and stupid, misread something and made some critical mistake. My sister relies on a variant of this dish as a staple, so I can certainly believe I did something wrong, and I should try it again. That’s not what I’m getting at here.

My question is: what do you do when this happens in front of guests? Am I simply naive for trying something new when someone else’s meal is at stake? Or is there some graceful way to recover from this situation? Beg for forgiveness? Order a pizza? At our table we had made many other dishes so people didn’t go hungry, but it was still a humbling experience.

If you’ve ever wondered what crow tastes like, I can assure you it tastes like very, very salty fish.