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Slice And Dice (Observation Essay)

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Slice and Dice

I watch as he saws away through the bone and flesh. It surprises me at how much force it actually takes to pull the meat away. The fish's squishy, lifeless eyes stare into mine as slowly it is sliced away, but all that I can think of is how delicious it would taste sautйed in a champagne cream sauce, topped with gulf shrimp, king crab and button mushrooms. In order to create such a delectable dish, the fish must be carefully sliced into fillets. This is a feat that requires much precision and focus, surprisingly it takes more exertion then expected.

About twice a week, Surf and Sirloin, the restaurant I am employed at receives fresh, whole American Red Snapper. According to experts, American Red Snapper is considered one of the finest fish, due to its supreme nutty flavor and versatile texture. We parade the two foot long, twenty some-odd pound dead fish in its entirety around, showing it to the customers thus proving the excellence in our product. A few months ago Channel 5 news tested various restaurants and grocery stores to see if the American Red Snapper they were selling was the real deal, as many places substitute the expensive fish for a much cheaper one unbeknownst to the customer. Shockingly our restaurant was the only one tested that sold authentic American Red Snapper. It is somewhat of a rare catch, and can only be sought throughout the first and fifteenth of the month, due to governmental restrictions on commercial fishing. Almost assuredly the restaurant runs out of Snapper at the end of every month in a simple problem of supply and demand.

The skin tone is the first thing I notice, for the large fish's smooth, shiny scales are bright red along the bottom and gradually decreasing in tone into a rosy pink color further towards the top fin. Obviously this is where the name American Red Snapper is derived. It must be wheeled in on a dolly through the back of the restaurant because it is delivered with five other Snappers, all about the same size, in an icy tomb of sorts. This makeshift refrigerator keeps the fish fresh during the delivery. The shipment easily weighs over 150 pounds. As a fish is dug out of the ice that encapsulates it and is transferred to the scale for weighing, a stream of blood, following the box to the scale, drips out of the fish's mouth. Although the fish does not look injured in any way, Wathiq, our head chef, points out that there is an incision where the stomach and guts should be. Apparently the intestinal remains are removed prior to delivery at the distributors'; I am quite relieved, since seeing the gastric leftovers wasn't at the top of my list. Strangely enough there is no fishy smell erupting from the fish, only the fresh smell of soap the dishwasher is using nearby. The chef explains to me that due to the quality of the fish, there should be no foul smell, for if there is, the fish is rotten.

Once the weight has been verified Wathiq must inspect it for freshness. He first peels the large gills up, checking for the crimson color it should be. Next he peers into the large black and white eyes of the fish. They are not cloudy or bloodshot, a precedent for a quality fish. Finally he firmly applies pressure to the side of the fish with his index finger, because the flesh rises back up, and follows the previous exams, the fish is allowed into the restaurant.

The chef plops the fish down on a large wooden cutting board in the back of the kitchen. In the back, he has plenty of space to work, for there is a long, shiny metallic countertop free of any obstacles, waiting to be sliced on. He begins the slicing with a surprisingly small orange paring knife. I expected the job to take a large, menacing butcher's knife, but he tells me he can gain more control with a smaller tool. The first incision goes in smoothly, starting at the top of the head, right along the dorsal fin, the one along the fish's spine. He easily slices into the meaty flesh but the next slices get rocky. Once he moves further down the top fin there is bone and cartilage that he must break through. He fiercely chops away through the tough parts of the fish in order to free up the outer edge. While he saws away, scales erupt off the fish, landing everywhere on the cutting board. While he is sawing at the flesh, the edges become jagged, but strangely enough the slices do not ruin the pristine fish. Apparently the immaculate tone of the fish helps to keep it together while filleting. Upon cutting along the dorsal fin, he follows through all the way until he reaches tail; the top edge has now been freed from the shackles of the fish's skin and bones.

After making a clear incision at the top of the Snapper, Wathiq moves just under the gills. He repeats the same strenuous process in a C formation, conveniently avoiding the dorsal or side fin, until he reaches the gash where the stomach used to be. Each time he begins a new incision it begins the same way, easy at first, but soon after he faces the arduous bones. As the slashes away his hand bangs against the metal countertop in almost a rhythmic pattern, as somewhat of a beat erupts throughout the kitchen. He finishes slicing all the way along the fish's bottom until he reaches the tail in the same manner as the top. The fish now has incisions throughout the perimeter of its body.

Wathiq must now free the side of the fish from the skeleton. This proves to be the most strenuous portion of the slicing as it requires constant sawing. Using his left hand he pulls the flesh ways from the bone as he slashes



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