This is a series of exerpts taken from The Life Of A Dragon to prove that gastronomy can be discreetly introduced in any story or novel, be it fiction or not!
Incidentally “Sea Ears” are Abalones in English, or “Oreilles de Mer” in vernacular French
PART 1: SEA EARS
But for the moment, dragon or not, he had more work than he cared for.
He was interrupted in his ruminations by a young man’s voice from the kitchen door.
“Jonas! Greetings! Look at what I’m bringing!” shouted a genial Naeem carrying a large wooden box. Jonas hurried to see the contents. The young man was such a great source of information on what dwelt in the sea. Ekan had never lost his passion for those great expanses of water and the mysterious teeming lives below the surface.
There were no different fish from the day before and their quality was irreproachable as ever. But in a corner he found half a dozen large slightly round dark shells dotted with small holes. He took one of them, turned it over and saw a kind of large foot under it. He scratched his shaved head in wonder.
“What are these?”
“Abalones. We also call them “sea ears”. Divers have to go down quite deep to collect them. But I can tell you they are worth the effort!”
“I believe you, but how do you cook them?”
-Shall I show you?”
“Sure! All of you, make some room! Time for some learning!” laughed the black giant, quite happy to discover another culinary experience.
Demonstrating at the same time, Naeem, thoroughly enjoying himself, explained:
“First, you clean the shell and the shellfish by rubbing the whole with salt and then rinse it with water. Sponge the water off with a clean cloth. Next, heat some oil in a frying pan until very hot. Put the abalone shell up onto the frying pan. Let it cook for a while, then cover it and let it steam inside its own juices for about the same time again. Take out the abalone and put it shell down onto a wooden cutting board. Insert a spatula between the shell and the meat. It should come off easily. Now turn the shellfish over, innards on top. Take off the innards. Throw them away or use them to make broth. Cut out the top of the shellfish, as the meat there is a bit tough to eat. Last, cut it in very thin slices from top to bottom and at a slant. You can eat the slices hot or cold as they are, with spices or sauce.”
He proceeded to cut the cooked abalone as indicated and offered a slice to everyone present. Ekan brought the slice to his mouth. The meat was very tender and succulent, as the shellfish was very fresh. A look at his staff was sufficient to convince him they had found a new choice food.
“Tell me, Naeem, do you usually cook your shellfish in oil or butter?”
“Well, either would do. Butter would be best, but it darkens quickly. Oil is a bit heavy. Mixing the two might be a better idea. But butter does not come cheap”
“I see. I’d like to show you something. Come outside with me!”
The young fisherman and the kitchen staff looked askance at Jonas. The Black Dragon beckoned them all to follow him outside. He guided them through the back garden to the very edge of the property. Quite a few trees with a height varying between that of one and two adult men stood there laden with small oval fruits. He pointed at the trees.
“Naeem, what do you call those trees? I’ve seen many of them around. I’ve been meaning to ask somebody for a while.”
“They are called oliva trees. They’ve been there for as long as I remember. I’m sure those trees have been growing here for generations. As far as I know, apart from their shade, they are pretty useless.”
“Really?” answered Jonas.
He picked a handful of the small fruits.
“People have never used them for food or else?” he continued looking at everybody. Negative nods were the only reply.
Holding the berries in his right hand over his open left hand, he proceeded to squeeze and crush them in his enormous grip. A yellow green liquid started sipping out of his clenched fist into his left palm. Throwing away the crushed fruit, he dipped a finger into the oily substance and tasted it.
“Well, well. I’ll be damned! And thinking that all the time we had the solution for something better than that terrible bean oil of yours next to our door! Taste it and tell me what you think!”
Each member of the kitchen staff and Naeem dipped a finger into Ekan’s palm and tasted the oil. Some came a second time for a bigger dip. All showed surprised faces, eyes round and lips smacking.
“What do you think, Grazel? Would your people and our customers appreciate such a taste?”
“I’ll be damned, too!” exclaimed the senior kitchen maid. “So that’s what those trees have been there for all the time! Why did our ancestors forget such a treasure?”
“We’ll probably never know.” answered a pensive Jonas. “Alright ladies, back to work! I’m going to ask the Dwarves if they can come up with some kind of press. Naeem, come with me!”
“But, I have to…” started the young man.
“Don’t worry! I’ll talk to your father. But before that, I’d like to have a word with you. Let’s pick up a couple of baskets first!”
They went back to the kitchen to take the baskets and back again to the oliva trees where they proceeded to harvest the berries. While they were doing that, Ekan addressed Naeem.
“We shall have to find a more efficient way to harvest those fruit. Picking them up one by one will be too much time consuming and backbreaking!”
“Why don’t we do like for chestnuts? Just put a cloth under the tree and beat the branches with long sticks.”
Ekan stopped his work to look at the young man’s face.
”Naeem, for all your knowledge of the sea and the fish, you ought to use your brains and skills for a land job. I understand your father needs you. But that is only in the mornings. Meaning no disrespect, but that leg of yours will never allow you to follow your sire’s steps.”
Seeing the young man’s face darken, the Black Dragon raised a hand in appeasement.
“What I mean is that I see a better alternative for you that won’t prevent you from helping your father and provide you with a decent respected life.”
“What kind of alternative could it be, then?” asked a still miffed Naeem.
“Naeem, you have an inborn sense for cooking and choosing the best quality ingredients. Why don’t you become a cook? How about starting as my apprentice?”
“At my age? And what about the kitchen maids? Won’t they think I’m intruding?”
Ekan laughed Naeem’s reservations away.
“There is no age for becoming a cook! Good food is good food. That is all! As far as Grazel and her maids are concerned, they are overloaded with work, what with serving the guests and all that cleaning. If you show them respect, they will be only too happy to share all their little secrets! A kitchen is all teamwork, nothing else! You can help your father in the mornings. Work in the kitchen will become a natural continuation of your everyday life. I’m pretty sure I can convince your father! So, what do you say?”
Ekan held out his hand. Naeem hesitated a moment but finally shook it.
“As long as my father agrees, I shall be honored to serve you!”
“You are a good son and I’m sure your father will be proud of you! But know you are not serving me, you are helping me! Now let’s take those oliva to the Dwarves, shall we?”
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