Many years ago, while I was still attending New England Culinary Institute, I worked with Kent Rathbun when he was opening Abacus in Dallas. Each day there would be an array of new and exciting ingredients from around the world. I distinctly remember going into the fish walk-in and seeing a few dozen John Dory on ice. The fish are unmistakable, but at the time they might as well have been aliens because I had never seen anything like them; Long spiny dorsal fins, smooth jaundiced- silver skin, protruding cheek bones and a large black patch in the middle of each side. While the fish were impressive to look at they were a terror to clean, and as a young cook I would frequently stab myself with the sharp spines protruding from the fins, leaving my hand throbbing in pain. Despite the painful learning experience- John Dory remains one of my favorite fish. The flesh is firm, but still delicate, with a sweet-briny flavor. Also known as St. Pierre, it is said to have gotten its distinct thumb-print pattern from the hands of St. Peter- an unlikely story given that the fish is found off the coast of Africa and Australia- but not the Sea of Galilee.
This week we got an unexpected surprise when we fileted the John Dory; perfect orange roe sacks. We are in the process of curing and drying the roe to make a version of Bottarga, a dried fish roe from Sardinia.