She chose the fish for Friday dinner. Well, she and the fishmonger chose together. She named a price point and asked what was freshest. “You like spicy?” the fishmonger replied. She said yes, and came with two beautiful catfish filets, practically sparkling with paprika, cayenne, and who-knows-what-else.
The fishmonger was not kidding. This was some seriously spicy fish. The fragrance it gave off while I cooked it was remarkably pungent. I made some tartar sauce from sweet and dill pickles, sour creme and mayonnaise to balance the heat. I went back for seconds–of the sauce.
We trust our fishmonger a lot. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t buy pre-seasoned fish; it would be too easy for an unscrupulous merchant to use strong spices to disguise fish that was a little past its sell-by date. Even so, I think I’ll suggest we season our own catfish next time.
We drove into New York on Saturday evening, but this wasn’t Date Night. She went dancing with some old friends. They weren’t out clubbing–this ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco, this ain’t no fooling around–but instead attending a big folk dance gathering in a church hall. (Yes, there are church halls in New York City.)
Meanwhile, I was helping to host an evening celebrating the impending wedding of a friend and collaborator. Our evening wasn’t wild and crazy, either: we went for dinner at a great Indian restaurant (the groom-to-be’s favorite cuisine), then to an all-you-can-play pinball center.
Although it wasn’t a bachelor party at some strip club, the evening had plenty of spice. One variety of curry listed on the menu was called phall; it came with the following description:
An excruciatingly hot curry, more pain and sweat than flavor!
So, of course, we had to try it.
For our customers who do this on a dare, we will require you to state a verbal disclaimer not holding us liable for any physical or emotional damage after eating this curry. If you do manage to finish your serving, a bottle of beer is on us, as is a certificate of completion and your picture in the (P)hall of fame.
Nobody in our party was crazy enough to attempt a full portion of phall; we just asked for a side-order to share. Even so, we left far more in the bowl than we ate. As with the fishmonger, this description was true to its word. It was painfully hot. Unpleasantly hot. Ridiculously hot. According to calculations done by a blogger specializing in Indian food, phall is 500 times hotter than tabasco sauce. (By my quick math, that’s 498 times hotter than any food needs to be.)
Having tried a little phall with a great deal of rice and some nan and knowing I’d not want to do that again, I wondered if it might be more useful as a condiment than an entree. A few drops added to some of my goat saag did indeed make the spinach-based curry sing with warmth. I was careful: more than a few drops, and the song would have been a scream.
The boys finished the evening with milkshakes at Baskin-Robbins. Dairy helps extinguish the burn from spicy foods. We maybe should have gone for ice cream before pinball. (She had a shake, too, after dancing for three hours, on the same principal as a runner uses chocolate milk as a recovery drink.) None of us made it into the “(p)hall of fame,” but none of us cared. Sometimes, knowing when to walk away is the smartest thing anyone can do.