Lamprey Is the Eel-like DealPosted: February 21, 2012
BY ED MURRIETA
Lamprey is a boneless, jawless fish that sucks the blood of other fish for sustenance, an elongated, cylindrical creature thought to be the oldest fishlike animal in existence. Lamprey are not pretty, but, oh, are they tasty, especially in the hands of Joseba Jimenez de Jimenez, a Basque-born chef who is currently cooking his version of the San Sebastian soul food at Harvest Vine in Seattle.
“We have lamprey and we have eel,” Jimenez said, stressing a distinction. “Lamprey is a very sweet fish. It’s much better than eel. You can taste the natural oils.”
Jimenez grew up eating and cooking lamprey in his native Basque region. He said you can cook lamprey many ways — fried, roasted, sauteed, even braised in wine like the French Basque do.
Jimenez received a load of Arctic lamprey from Alaska’s Yukon River in mid-November. He’s featured the fish different ways over the past couple of weeks. I visited Harvest Vine two weeks ago and again tonight, sampling lamprey in two different preparations: pan-seared and roasted, and brined and smoked. Both preparations were delicious.
Pan-seared and roasted, Jimenez’s lamprey was firm and soft at the same time. The flesh just beneath the skin sprang to the bite. The interior flesh was like marrow: tender, slightly firm and a little mealy all at once. A thin rip-cord of cartilage running through the middle of the fish added a springy accent. Jimenez served this version atop paella, with a sauce of condensed fried tomatoes adding extraordinary depth and sweetness and a drizzle of parsley oil adding a bright note. I ate this version two weeks ago and haven’t been able to get it off my mind or tongue since.
The preparation I ate tonight was brined in a water-sugar solution and smoked with hickory chips; both techniques made the lamprey melt-in-my-mouth tender throughout. Tonight’s preparation was a quintet of seafood textures: the lamprey was topped with salmon caviar and was accompanied by grilled, crusty octopus and blanched and shaved geoduck, all atop a confit of rice, matsutake mushrooms and perwinkles — the sea creature, not the grub.
Both dishes were $16 each. (Sharable, tapas-style dinner for two, with a bottle of wine and dessert, was $94 — well-worth the visit.)
One of Jimenez’s assistants told me Harvest Vine sells about five orders of lamprey nightly — not a big mover, but one worth rushing in for, as Harvest Vine is down to the last of its lamprey. Hence the brined and smoked preparation.
Jimenez said he wants to do a splashier lamprey promotion next year.
“It’s a good fish that we should use before we exterminate all the other fish,” Jimenez said.
Originally published Dec. 1, 2008 in South Sound Eats.