My Glorious Day as Pescatarian
September 16, 2009
This past week the program took us to Cuerici, a reserve and farm in the highlands of the Talamanca Mountain Range. Don Carlos attends to this land religiously. He protects 200 hectares of primary forest, and some successional secondary forest as well. The primary forest is mainly comprised of towering Oak trees, some nearly 1,000 years old. However, in order for the reserve to be self sufficient, it must also be a farm. Don Carlos manages a pasture that combines cattle grazing with berry cultivation and a trout farm.
We heard Don Carlos’s philosophy about preserving the earth, but finding a balance to be able to live off of it as well. We heard how he grew up with trout, learning how best to raise them. This is a more complicated process than you might think, involving massaging the females to carefully extract the eggs. He has an elaborate system with many ponds: one to keep the reproductive age fish (complete with a built in upstream for the fish to spawn), one for the youngins, one for the catching age, and one for the females to rest after laying eggs.
When Don Carlos invited us to help in the process of preparing the fish to be cooked, I knew I would feel comfortable eating some. So we followed him around the farm. He told us what to do and stood back watching, probably chuckling inside at our novice. The first step was feeding. This was easy, but rather fun. As we threw in the pellets the fish swarmed to the surface, propelling themselves over each other and rapidly shoveling the food through their open mouths.
The catching wasn’t so easy. After a half hour 6 of us had tried and there were 3 fish in the bucket. Just when people started to return to the cabin from disinterest, one of my classmates scooped up 11 in one go! Don Carlos firmly grabbed the bodies, put his fingers right behind the gills, pulled, and switfly broke their necks. He seemed very comfortable with this, as I’m sure he has done it a million times. The fish seemed to have not felt a thing.
The gutting part is when most people left. However, I have a philosophy that if you are too grossed out, or don’t know how to prepare what you eat, you should not eat it. By taking the fish in your own hands, removing its insides and cleaning it, you are giving respect to the animal, taking pride in the process, and taking responsibility for what you eat. So I ripped the flesh above the gills, grabbed behind the jaw and pulled down. Everything came out it one fell swoop. I did 6 more.
Unfortunately I couldn’t participate in the cooking process. However, the Cuerici cooks were phenomonal. The fish was served over rice with a tomato salad and a fresh squeeze of lemon. I felt great about eating it and it was delicious.