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That Fish Smell

Hey, Matt: Why does all seafood smell the same, even though it comes from such different kinds of animals (mollusks, arthropods, vertebrates)? Okay, so maybe it doesn’t all smell exactly the same, but similar. The only thing all those creatures have in common is that they live in seawater and that “seafood smell” does not smell like seawater. — Ernie Bornheimer, Lemon Grove

“Ask him where he buys his fish,” Matthew.

No, Grandma. What’s the dif?

“Because I don’t want to make a mistake and shop there, that’s why. If I understand what he means, ‘seafood smell’ is no good. Once fish smells like fish, it’s only good for plant food.”

Well, you’re the brains of the culinary outfit here, so I guess I gotta take your word for it. So, what’s wrong with fish smelling like fish?

“Fish, shrimp, clams, whatever, straight out of the sea smell like their environment — seawater. Salty high tide. Once they’ve been out for a while, we’re talking low tide.

“Whatever kind of seafood — whatever combination of feet, claws, shells, fins — they’re all made of the same type of protein (different from mammal protein), which is why a very fresh clam doesn’t smell so different from a very fresh flounder. And when they’re very fresh, you’ve gotta get your nose right down into them to smell anything at all because they’re pretty much sterile. Smells are caused by vapors, and fresh fish don’t have much in the way of vapors.

“Fish don’t start smelling like fish until we start handling them and transfer some bacteria or molds onto the flesh and until the muscle meat starts breaking down. Now you’ve got vapors. At first it’s not so bad. A salty air smell with a little bit of fish — just enough so you know you’re not in the detergent aisle or something. Seafood flesh decomposes faster than, say, beef because of the type of protein it is. And think about this: seafood spends most of its time in cold water, which means any bacteria in its system has to be pretty tough and efficient. Once they’re out of the water and getting toasty, it’s a microbe festival. And microbes in decomposing flesh give off lots of vapors.

“Oh, Matthew, that baked Alaska was for dinner!”

There’s plenty left. Chill, Grandma. Don’t get your microbes in a twist. Ha-ha-ha. Uh, you’re not laughing. C’mon, Grandma, lighten up.

“Do you care about this, Matthew? Should I even bother to continue?”

Heck, no, I don’t care. But Ernie does, so I guess that means I’ve gotta listen. So go ahead. Warmed-up fish?

“Fish smell is made of a combination of ammonia and sulfur, and trimethylamine, which comes from the decomposing protein. Lemons or vinegar help cover the trimethylamine smell, which is why we’ve traditionally served fish with lemon.

“Fish that eat other fish have good fish-digesting microbes in their guts. When we fish those fish out of the drink, well, the microbes can’t tell the difference between dinner and a dead host, so decomp again is pretty quick and efficient. In other words, seafood was made to smell, I’m afraid. That also explains why, when you’re fishing, you should gut your catch ASAP, to keep digestive bacteria away from the flesh.

“Oh, Matthew, what are you doing now? Are you still trying to figure out how to use that cell-phone camera? Are you listening at all?”

Yeah, yeah, sure. But I’ll tell you, I’ve only got maybe two more minutes left on my meter and after that I’m dust. Does Ernie really need all this information?

“Maybe not. But I’m sure Ernie would love to hear the story about how you went to answer your phone the other day and ended up taking a picture of your ear.

“Smell is so important in gauging the freshness of fish that the feds actually employ squads of fish sniffers to smell imported seafood before it hits the market. These sniffers rate what they smell on a scale of 0 to 100. One hundred is pretty much poison. Hey, Matthew, how about applying for one of those jobs? It’s skilled, white-collar work. A lab coat has a white collar, right? And it’s got to be better than this annoying job you have now.”

Oh, yeah, I’ll get right on it. Manipulate my résumé to make it look like I’ve got experience. Well, the Reader office is pretty ripe, does that count?

“They’re smelling for the bad components they officially call ‘fishiness, oxidation, mustiness, yeastiness, sweetness, sourness, cheesiness, rancidness, cardboard, sulfur, and ammonia.’ That’s quite a trained nose to sort out all those smells.”

They should hire basset hounds.

“Don’t get smart, Matthew.”

No worry there, Grandma.

“Well, anyway, they’re starting to develop machines to do the sniffing and sorting. I wonder what kind of job a laid-off fish sniffer would qualify for?”

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Hey, Matt: Why does all seafood smell the same, even though it comes from such different kinds of animals (mollusks, arthropods, vertebrates)? Okay, so maybe it doesn’t all smell exactly the same, but similar. The only thing all those creatures have in common is that they live in seawater and that “seafood smell” does not smell like seawater. — Ernie Bornheimer, Lemon Grove

“Ask him where he buys his fish,” Matthew.

No, Grandma. What’s the dif?

“Because I don’t want to make a mistake and shop there, that’s why. If I understand what he means, ‘seafood smell’ is no good. Once fish smells like fish, it’s only good for plant food.”

Well, you’re the brains of the culinary outfit here, so I guess I gotta take your word for it. So, what’s wrong with fish smelling like fish?

“Fish, shrimp, clams, whatever, straight out of the sea smell like their environment — seawater. Salty high tide. Once they’ve been out for a while, we’re talking low tide.

“Whatever kind of seafood — whatever combination of feet, claws, shells, fins — they’re all made of the same type of protein (different from mammal protein), which is why a very fresh clam doesn’t smell so different from a very fresh flounder. And when they’re very fresh, you’ve gotta get your nose right down into them to smell anything at all because they’re pretty much sterile. Smells are caused by vapors, and fresh fish don’t have much in the way of vapors.

“Fish don’t start smelling like fish until we start handling them and transfer some bacteria or molds onto the flesh and until the muscle meat starts breaking down. Now you’ve got vapors. At first it’s not so bad. A salty air smell with a little bit of fish — just enough so you know you’re not in the detergent aisle or something. Seafood flesh decomposes faster than, say, beef because of the type of protein it is. And think about this: seafood spends most of its time in cold water, which means any bacteria in its system has to be pretty tough and efficient. Once they’re out of the water and getting toasty, it’s a microbe festival. And microbes in decomposing flesh give off lots of vapors.

“Oh, Matthew, that baked Alaska was for dinner!”

There’s plenty left. Chill, Grandma. Don’t get your microbes in a twist. Ha-ha-ha. Uh, you’re not laughing. C’mon, Grandma, lighten up.

“Do you care about this, Matthew? Should I even bother to continue?”

Heck, no, I don’t care. But Ernie does, so I guess that means I’ve gotta listen. So go ahead. Warmed-up fish?

“Fish smell is made of a combination of ammonia and sulfur, and trimethylamine, which comes from the decomposing protein. Lemons or vinegar help cover the trimethylamine smell, which is why we’ve traditionally served fish with lemon.

“Fish that eat other fish have good fish-digesting microbes in their guts. When we fish those fish out of the drink, well, the microbes can’t tell the difference between dinner and a dead host, so decomp again is pretty quick and efficient. In other words, seafood was made to smell, I’m afraid. That also explains why, when you’re fishing, you should gut your catch ASAP, to keep digestive bacteria away from the flesh.

“Oh, Matthew, what are you doing now? Are you still trying to figure out how to use that cell-phone camera? Are you listening at all?”

Yeah, yeah, sure. But I’ll tell you, I’ve only got maybe two more minutes left on my meter and after that I’m dust. Does Ernie really need all this information?

“Maybe not. But I’m sure Ernie would love to hear the story about how you went to answer your phone the other day and ended up taking a picture of your ear.

“Smell is so important in gauging the freshness of fish that the feds actually employ squads of fish sniffers to smell imported seafood before it hits the market. These sniffers rate what they smell on a scale of 0 to 100. One hundred is pretty much poison. Hey, Matthew, how about applying for one of those jobs? It’s skilled, white-collar work. A lab coat has a white collar, right? And it’s got to be better than this annoying job you have now.”

Oh, yeah, I’ll get right on it. Manipulate my résumé to make it look like I’ve got experience. Well, the Reader office is pretty ripe, does that count?

“They’re smelling for the bad components they officially call ‘fishiness, oxidation, mustiness, yeastiness, sweetness, sourness, cheesiness, rancidness, cardboard, sulfur, and ammonia.’ That’s quite a trained nose to sort out all those smells.”

They should hire basset hounds.

“Don’t get smart, Matthew.”

No worry there, Grandma.

“Well, anyway, they’re starting to develop machines to do the sniffing and sorting. I wonder what kind of job a laid-off fish sniffer would qualify for?”

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Comments
28

Russl...if you're "going for broke" what happened to "rock lobster" by the B-52s?

Look out for that paranha!!!

Sept. 26, 2009

Ahh Fish Heads. I haven't heard that song in a long, long time. Fish Heads trivia, which actor starred in and directed the video? http://vids.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=vids.individual&videoid=11912365h

We've seen Billy Mumy in one of his other bands a few times around LA. The Jenerators, with among others, David Jolliffe and Miguel Ferrer(he was married to Leilani Sarelle who was Roxy in Basic Instinct. )My favorite Jenerators song........Pussy Whipped

http://www.billmumyfanclub.com/jenerators/albums/jenerators/whipped.htm

Sept. 26, 2009

I just got slammed in CityBeat this week too! Two whole columns about stinking fish! This can't be a coincidence! I'm starting to feel downright unwelcome!

Sept. 24, 2009

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark, but it ain't you, Fish. At any rate, that cartoon is too cute :)

Sept. 24, 2009

I swear there is no conspiracy between the Matthew Alice Corporation and City Beat. It's just one of those random events in the universe, where two smelly fish objects are on separate trajectories, co-existing for millennia, until one day the powers of mathematics cause them to suddenly collide and break into a flurry of fish columns. It might never happen again in our lifetimes, so just be glad you were here to see it.

Sept. 24, 2009

I totally dig the fish smell. Calle Sexta in Tijuana, East of Revo, all of the fish markets are there. Damned good. Bring that bacteria on!

Sept. 24, 2009

Well I suppose readers will have to judge for themselves.

Matthew Alice's column is entitled, "That Fish Smell:"

That Fish Smell By Matthew Alice | Published Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2009

http://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/2009/sep/23/fish-smell/#c34324

And this column in CityBeat is about me. It is entitled, "Go Fish:"

"Dear Fish,

You smell like a three-day-left-in-the-sun-real-world-version-of-your-online-avatar.

Sincerely,

Lunacy"

http://politicallunacy.wordpress.com/2009/09/20/go-fish/

I doth protest!

Sept. 24, 2009

Mz. Fish: You take that nitwit (Carl something-or-other from something-or-other community college teaching something or other that people take seriously like {ahem} fishes ride bicycles, writing for a third-rate 'zine that few pay attention to) seriously?

I'd debate him. But he'd better pack a big lunch, we're going to be there for a while. He quotes "Greg" Newmark (actually "Craig" Newmark for those who aspire to accurate quoting), a complete tool unworthy of even being misnamed. Don't lose sleep over an a-hole. Lose sleep over anything else, but not an a-hole.

Sept. 24, 2009

Oh, I didn't take him seriously at all. His whole column was entirely about one comment I made about his last column which he apparently completely misunderstood. The whole thing is silly.

I just it was an amazing coincidence (? Still not convinced it is entirely coincidental) that there were two smelly fish columns this week!!!

Maybe I should check the New York Times for a mention.

Sept. 25, 2009

Fish I don't know what you said to set him off, but I really liked his column. Every 20 percenter (that's what I call the nitwits that kept Bush's approval rating from never dropping below that) should read it.

Sept. 25, 2009

My liberal lawyer friend is from Seattle, and she told me that PETA is now complaining about that market where they toss all the fish (you know the spot...a touristy place now that's always shown when they show clips of Seattle, right before the usual clip of the Space Needle).

I've found that CityBeat is the perfect publication for wrapping fish.

But, I was wondering. I got backstage at a Yes concert at Humphrey's. Their bass player Chris Squier is nicknamed "fish". Which is kind of a weird nickname. Now, The Who's late bassist was nicknamed "The Ox". A slightly better nickname, but not by much. And of course, there's "Flea" of the Chili Peppers. We should ask Matthew Alice why bassists get saddled with the worst nicknames (Sting is even stupid, but at least it's not an animal or bug).

I gotta figure out if Country Joe and the Fish, the band that played Woodstock and had the famous Vietnam song, had their bassist with that nickname. I know someone in that band was the actual fish. Just not sure which one.

Sept. 25, 2009

(#9) Josh, their bass player was Bruce Barthol; maybe you're thinking of Chicken Hirsh. Their name came from a quotation from Chairman Mao about "every fish in the sea." I'm not sure what the whole quote is; I've misplaced my copy of the Red Book.

Sept. 25, 2009

Actually, Josh, Country Joe and the Fish didn't play Woodstock -- just Country Joe. He was a red-diaper baby, by the way, whose parents named him after Joe Stalin.

Sept. 25, 2009

response to #11 Actually, Country Joe and the Fish did indeed play at Woodstock. Country Joe did his acoustic set on Friday night. He played a fill in set right after Richie Havens. If you look closely, you can see his guitar strap is just a piece if rope; it was just a guitar somebody found laying around. Country Joe and the Fish played on Sunday, after Joe Cocker, I think. The Woodstock lineup was Country Joe McDonald, Barry "the Fish" Melton, Doug Metzler, Mark Kapner and Greg Dewey. "Chicken" Hirsh had left bt the time Woodstock came along. I think you mean: the true revolutionary "moves through the peasantry as the fish does through water."

Sept. 25, 2009

Dang, you guys know you're Woodstock!

Speaking of fish lines, how about that Cream song from Disraeli Gears, which is great. The line of the chorus is: The tiny purple fishes/run laughing thru your fingers....

Oops. Can't remember the rest of it. Maybe something like: And you want to take her with you/To the violence of the sun.

Gotta love the lyrics in the 60s.

Sept. 25, 2009

Anti, the YouToob link benefits everyone except Gramps, who still works without speakers. Thanks to Garden for all the Fish info and for confirming my recollection that Barry Melton went by "the Fish"; I couldn't confirm that anywhere.

Another fish song is "Nemesis" by Shriekback ("We could still end up...with the great big fishes"). They once said in a local concert that all their songs were about either fish or masturbation.

Anybody got any mudshark stories?

Sept. 25, 2009

Josh, It's Tales of Brave Ulysses. Time to but down the bong... or maybe time to pick it up!!!

Sept. 25, 2009

russl, It wasn't a mudshark, it was a red snapper. And I think it was supposedly was one of Zep's road crew. Remember, it's only rock and roll.

Sept. 25, 2009

Josh, we saw Country Joe a couple of years ago up in SFO. There was a concert in Golden Gate Park. Summer of Love 40th Anniv, something like that. Anyway, I saw an interview he did and he talked about the (then) upcoming 40th anniv of Woodstock. We wanted to see him at the Greek last month but we were out of town. check it out http://www.countryjoe.com/

Sept. 25, 2009

Hi Mz Fish. Just now catching up on all the finny, scaly goings-on here. You were wronged. Wronged! After checking out City Beat, I'm convinced that of the two, mine is the only legitimate fish column. The other is a cheap knock-off scribbled at your expense. I"m glad you weren't fooled by that self-involved puffery. You'll always get better treatment here at M.A., Inc (LLC).

Sept. 25, 2009

I choose not to believe (much) in vast media conspiracies against me. As you say, the stars were simply aligned funny this week. Fish got whacked. It happens.

Sept. 25, 2009

(#17) The lowdown from mythbusters Snopes.com: http://www.snopes.com/music/artists/mudshark.asp.

Sept. 25, 2009

Yes, Tales of Brave Ulysses. That's the song! I love the wah wah guitar, and the backwards symbol played. What a great tune. And, how about SWLABR...again with the 60s lyrics, that stood for: she was like a bearded rainbow.

I do sometimes, believe it or not, google when I need to find lyrics. I'm just lazy, and often times, weird pop-ups come up. And I just didn't want some weird fish porn popping up (or a re-creation of that mudshark/snapper story, which I first read in Hammer of the Gods).

Now, I wouldn't mind hearing the song Fish Heads, which I haven't heard in a billion years.

Sept. 25, 2009

I guess you could also throw in "Fishing Blues" by Taj Mahal in the anals of fish music. Don't know how I forgot "Fish Heads." (By Barnes and Barnes, one half of whom was Billy Mumy of Lost in Space. I'm not making that up.)

Sept. 25, 2009

And the album Trout Mask Replica.

Sept. 25, 2009

Trout Mask. Gotta be one of the most bizarre album covers in music history. What a bizarre musician Captain Beefheart is. Amazing artist, though.

Sept. 25, 2009

Oh hell, let's go for broke. "Octopus's Garden," anybody? "Swimming With the Fish in the Sea" by Henry Badowski. "Fish Tale" by Kip Adotta. "Shark Attack" by the Surf Punks. "A Moray" by Dean Martin.

Sept. 25, 2009

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