Monday, November 28, 2011

Starfish soup

This article from the New York Times Diner's Journal discusses one of many eccentric epicurean clubs that sprang up in the 19th century:
From 1880 to 1887, when mussels were considered vulgar and skate too ugly to cook, a group of socially prominent men met once a year to glut on unpopular seafood. Calling themselves the Ichthyophagous Club, they would “endeavor to overcome prejudice directed towards many kinds of fish, which are rarely eaten, because their excellence is unknown.”
The club boasted of feasting on such things as "aspic of jellyfish, octopus stew" and "garfish older than trilobite"-- but one dish they actually did serve was surprising to me: starfish bisque. This dish was recommended not only for its taste ("the king of all shell fish, so far as flavor is concerned"), but as a way to deal with the plague of starfish attacking oyster beds:
Man is, of course, the oyster's greatest destroyer, but the star-fish comes next and while the poor bivalve is attacked and done away with by both, there is nothing but accident to reduce the numbers of star-fish. We take up hundreds of the five-horned devils-- thousands, I should say-- when dredging for oysters, and kill them as well as we can by smashing them and trampling on them...
If people can only be made to know how good the star-fish is and taught how to cook him, the demand for him will soon become so great that modes of catching him in quantity will be devised, and the problem of abating his depredations on the oyster beds will speedily be settled.
I had previously thought that starfish were inedible, but further Googling revealed that starfish are occasionally used in Asian cuisine, sometimes fried whole or, again, as part of a soup.

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