11 (Fri) December 2020
-Changgok, Sujeong, Seongnam, Gyeonggi, Republic of Korea-
with the Family
Les Crâniés Aquatique Culinaire à la Corée (5)
Inspired by the fish counter at our local supermarket (see 11.229 Gwangeo Hoe), this is part of a recurring series on Give Me This Day to explore food fishes that are available in Korea and how they are prepared.
(For other posts in the series, see CULINARY AQUATIC CRANIATES A COREE)
Dochi (도치) is a type of lumpfish or lumpsucker. Linnaean classification: family Cyclopteroidea, genus Cyclopterus, species C. lumpus. The “sucker” refers to their pelvic fins, which have evolved into a sucker-like disc that they use to attach to surfaces.
Passing by the fish counter, not intending on buying anything, I couldn’t help but notice the unusual looking fish. Never seen it before. The globular shape was reminiscent of pufferfish; indeed, the name “dochi,” similar to “goseum dochi” (고슴도치) (hedgehog), made me think that they’d be related in some way – turns out no, I’m still trying to figure out the etymology. When I asked the fishmonger about the fish, he explained that it’s a rare delicacy, usually available only on the southern coast, prized for the abundant roe. Meanwhile, another passerby got all excited when she saw them and bought one. So I was suckered (pun intended) into buying one. The fishmonger recommended that I cook it like a standard spicy stew. I was hoping that I had discovered something unusual and wonderful.
Over the course of human history, people have tasted every catchable fish in the ocean. Through tens of thousands of years of experiences, we have come to learn that some fish are good to eat raw (e.g., tuna), some fish are good to eat grilled (e.g., mackerel), some fish are good to eat battered and deep-fried and served with vinegar (e.g., cod), some fish are good to eat salted and canned in olive oil (e.g., anchovy). But for every good, the vast majority have likely been bad. While diving in the Philippines, I asked the boat crew whether they ever ate the brightly colored fish living amidst the corals, which would be so easy to scoop up with a net, and they said that such fish are mostly terrible in taste and texture, so they don’t bother. This is why we don’t eat things like clown fish (i.e., Nemo) or royal blue tangs (i.e., Dory). This is why every culinary culture in the world tends to focus on a handful of fish varieties, maybe a dozen at most. (Come to think of it, this is also why we eat a limited number of land animals, birds, vegetables, fruits.)
It was certainly unusual, certainly not wonderful. The loose roe cooked okay into little opaque spheres that didn’t taste like much, just a bit briny. But the sacs that were intact contained some kind of amniotic fluid that remained thick and yucky – gross beyond my ability to describe. The meat became slippery and icky – gross beyond my ability to describe. Fortunately, they didn’t exude any weird flavors into the broth or other components, so we just picked out the pieces of tofu and radish, avoiding the unappetizing bits.
I am disappointed that the first people who had caught and ate dochi did not permanently cross it off the list.
(For more details re food, see WHAT)
(For more details re venues, see WHERE IN KOREA)