On the afternoon of my second day at Browne I was sent to the dungeon, the pit, the depths of Browne Trading Company. Upon walking down, I heard loud heavy rock music and banging. I walked through a plastic screen and there was a large man wearing a hood and holding a large machete-like knife dripping with what appeared to be fresh blood. He glared at me and asked, “are you that boy that orders 33 Oysters, 67 clams and 2.5 pounds of mussels at the end of every Wednesday?” I stood there in silence before his tone changed to that of laughter as he slapped me on the back. After changing my soiled grundens, I hopped back into the cooler to see the behind the scenes, the heart, the.. (well you get the point) of the fish (fresh in every day) and its fabrication before it is shipped off to restaurants and other clients across the country. Greg Wintle (AKA Uncle Wintle) has worked for Rod Mitchell for nearly 17 years cutting fish. Every day Greg and his assistant receive orders from the sales office and commence to finding the fish in the walls of styrofoam boxes, wooden crates, and large plastic bins to scale, gut, fillet, skin among any other special requests. Greg is a master with a knife. I watched him in awe as he seemlessly cut fluke fillets like butter and broke down half of a 400 pound swordfish all while humming along to a Motorhead song on the radio. I was told that it usually takes 3-4 guys to fill in for Greg when he is gone. It isn’t at all easy to be in an under 40 degree room all day. An hour into my visit, my fingers grew numb and my knees knocked. Somehow though I managed to get my trigger finger to cooperate and take some pictures of fish around the cooler from Wild Red King Salmon, local Scallops and Oysters to more exotic treasures like Scorpion Fish, Red Sea Bream, and Lubina.
Perhaps the most famed culinary fish- Dover Sole. The name just rolls off one’s tongue so elegantly. This versatile, delicate, sweet-fleshed fish has taken a spotlight across the world. Its name – Solea – dates back to mythical lore, as the Greeks believed the fish “would form a fit sandal for an ocean nymph”. Sole a la Meuniere was Julia Child’s first meal in France and caused her to have a culinary epiphany. Although I haven’t had the luxury of eating a classic dish with Dover Sole, many fish dishes I have eaten have had similar ‘epiphany’ effects and feed my passion.
Fish Libary: Dover Sole
I spent my second day of my week-long apprenticeship in the Browne Trading in-house smoke room. A small enclosed room above the Browne Trading retail marketplace held 2 large smokers that contributed to the line of Browne’s excuisite offerings from sweet and tiny Maine pink Shrimp, Scallops, Haddock, Trout, Sturgeon and Salmon. Joe Vachon is the smoke master along with his assistant, John Donahue. Although Joe is not a fish eater, the products that come from the large smokers are presise, consistant and have the perfect level of smoky nuances without masking the fish’s flavors. Using nothing but cherry wood chips, John stands guard at the smoker and reads the thermometer compulsively and adds chips and extiguishes a fire at a turn of a degree. Though the Trout and maple smoked Salmon are amazing when ripped out of the package, there was truely nothing like eating a piece with just my fingers right out of the smoker still engulfed by the sweet cheerywood smoke. In-between tasting large amounts of Maine sea spice Salmon (Joe’s siganture spice rub) and Shrimp , I helped package, monitor the smoker temperature, label product and spritz sides of Salmon with the all-purpose scotch spray. John explained they used this spray for the salmon, to sanitize tables, and of course wet the old whistle from time to time (I wasn’t sure if he was kidding or not).