Justo Thomas is a symphony conductor.
His music: seldom heard. His stage: a sterile ten by five foot white-tiled room. The temperature: as cold as the fluorescent lighting above.
“Nobody comes down here. All this space is mine. Nobody comes in here,” says Thomas.
Here is the basement of Le Bernardin, arguably the best seafood restaurant in New York and most likely the country. Thomas, its fish butcher chef, has been “performing” at this three Michelin-star restaurant for seven years.
In the tucked away area, there’s a continual rhythm of sharp clings followed by loud thumps and wistful rings. But Thomas’s instruments do not include strings, percussion, or woodwinds. His are a half-dozen German-made steel knives.
“You see here? You put the knife at ninety degrees,” instructs Thomas, as he slices the pale-pinkish flesh of a 50-lbs. halibut from its white underbelly. “Separate the meat from the skin. You see? This is the bone. Have to make sure no bone. It has to be nice and clean…perfect.”
His hands, hidden under yellow kitchen gloves, have orchestrated these moves thousands of times over.
“Fridays, I do a thousand pounds… regular days, six or seven hundred. We use like twelve or thirteen kinds of different fish, but the thing is we have the same fish everyday,” says Thomas, now standing over one of many skate wings he must fillet into equal portions. “I know each fish in here. I know the body.”
The list of species that arrive fresh into this maestro’s domain includes salmon, black and red snappers, halibut, turbot, white tuna, hiramasa, monkfish, codfish, fluke, skate, and the fish he dreads dealing with the most.
“Black sea bass. Hate that one,” says Thomas without thinking. “When I come in, I check the ordering sheet. The first thing I look for is black sea bass. When I see how much is coming, I say ‘oh no.’”
The Marine Stewardship Council is an important organization to know about in the means of wild fish and seafood. By acknowledging and looking for the products that carry the MSC logo, you are supporting sustainable and responsible fisheries and companies both national and international. Please take the time and watch the 8 minute video below and then see how many products in your local grocery stores you can spot carrying the MSC logo and stamp of approval.
Tim’s been posting all these amazing shots of bones so I thought I’d start mentioning the idea of stock.
Without writing a book, stock is basically a broth made from animal bones and some aromatics (onions, celery, spices). Bones contain gelatin and a huge amount of flavor. Stocks can be made in large batches and frozen in appropriate sized containers. Stocks are like gold.
“What does one use fish stock for? How does one actually make fish stock? It will smell up my kitchen! What recipes actually call for fish stock? Who CARES about fish stock?”
If you got as far as the last question, cheers. For the last 3 years I’ve been driving the notion of eating more seafood in a landlocked community that thrives on eating (local) land animals such as pork and beef. We don’t need to eat fish here, but it’s available just like anything else today. The average household that eats fish once or twice a week might not be aware that there is a world beyond salmon, beyond shrimp, beyond tuna, beyond scallops, beyond a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind…(queue twilight zone theme track).
All goofing aside, just as beef, pork, chicken bones (to name a few) lend to some gelatinous and flavorful broth or stock, so do fish. It can enhance sauces, soups, and chowders and brings out that briny fresh flavor in some bland fish dishes.
I realize I may have more work and convincing to do (especially after Tim’s last blog post with all that red, meaty, marrowy goodness) to convince people to eat more fish, especially to go out of their way to boil up some ‘fish head soup’.
Most fishmongers will give you the bones for free if you ask or call ahead. Just make sure they are fresh and don’t smell fishy. If they don’t smell fishy, than neither will your kitchen. Seeing how it only takes about an hour of start to finish time, try it out!
Recipe: Fish Stock (coming soon!)
Sorry for the lack of updates! I’ve had a horrendous few weeks. I have a friend in ICU, had 5 stitches in my arm, and have just in general been extraordinarily busy. That being said…here are some sexy meat pictures!!!!!
This is a whole round of beef, the back leg of the animal. That tiny knife (6 inches long) is the only tool necessary to break down the entire piece. From this comes: rump roast, eye of round roast, shank, london broil, top round roast, soup bones, sirloin tip roast/steaks, marrow bones for roasting, and some bones for dogs. The whole thing normally weighs around 70-80 lbs.
The same thing as the first picture, but in lamb. These are the rear legs of a lamb, pictured with the tools I use to cut them apart. Shanks are in the rear, great for braising. Leg of lamb, lamb flanks, sirloin roasts are all intact in the large piece in the fore.
More updates coming soon! We had a sausage class the other night, after hours at the market, so I will upload the few pictures I was able to take!!