I knew that my first husband, Max, was a seafood lover beyond the likes I’d seen in the other men I’d dated. He noshed on gravalax and pickled herring like potato chips, spooned up salmon roe from the jar, sucked Swedish caviar spread out of a tube -- for breakfast, with coffee.
But it wasn’t until he took me to visit his family in Sweden that I realized the depths of his fishy obsession.
Then it hit me like a three-pound pike flung onto the bottom of our little motor-boat anchored in the Stockholm archipelago. There were four of us in the boat if you didn’t count the growing pile of pike: Max, myself, Max’s best friend Lars, and Lars’ stunningly blond girlfriend Tova.
The plan was to tour the little granite islets that dot the calm waters, stopping for a picnic lunch and maybe casting a line or two to fish for pike.
The reality was a driving, merciless rain that made the islets too slick to walk upon. We only stopped once so Tova and I could pee, but there was no cover on the pink granite. The only way to hide our bare bottoms was to scamper over the slippery surface to the other side of the rock. Tova skipped gracefully up the hill in all her honey-colored, Scandinavian glory, while I trudged behind on all fours, desperate not to slide into the water and have to be rescued by Max, who was pissy enough as it was about having to stop at all.
Finally Tova and I found a place to drop our rubber rain pants. There was shelter next to a crater that held a dead swan floating in a pool of bottle-green water. Its feathery white wings were outspread, as if it were flying off to some other, more pleasant reality.
Back on the boat, the rain came down harder and we ate our soggy sandwiches of brown bread and caviar spread while Max and Lars cast line after line, reeling in silvery pikes.
The afternoon dwindled. The rain fell. The boys fished competitively, neither willing to call it quits while the other was ahead by a fish.
To pass the time, Tova sang Nordic folk songs and I sat hunched and miserable and soaked to the skin, attempting to focus on the 19th century novel I stuck in my oversized slicker pocket as we left the summer house that morning. I’d hoped to read it lying on sun-warmed rocks while Tova swam and the boys fished. I can’t remember what book it was other than it was the Penguin edition of something or other, which should have, I thought, withstood the rain a little better than it did.
Finally, dusk dimmed the overcast sky and we had to go back. Lars had beat Max by one pike, and Max fumed all the way home.
When we got there, Max and Lars cooked a feast. They baked several of the fish, slathering them in a melted butter and hard-cooked egg sauce scented with tarragon, called “dragon” in Swedish. Naturally, it was Max’s favorite herb.
By the time we returned to New York a few weeks later, I knew our relationship had sunk, and that my soulmate was an unbearable grouch. And I was ready to fly away to some other, more pleasant reality.
But even after Max had moved out, taking all the tubes of caviar spread with him, I still kept his butter, egg, and tarragon sauce for fish and gave it an honored place in my repertoire. I can’t usually find pike, but find the sauce works well on almost anything aquatic, and especially red-fleshed, sweet artic char. And the best part? I don’t have to go on a fishing trip to procure it. In fact, I haven’t been fishing since.
Max’s Arctic Char with Egg Lemon Dragon Sauce
2 (8-ounce) fillets arctic char
Kosher salt, for seasoning
Freshly ground black pepper, for seasoning
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 large egg, hard cooked, peeled, and diced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1. Preheat the oven to 400° F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and place the fish on it, skin side down. Brush the fillets with some of the melted butter. Bake until just cooked through, 7 to 8 minutes.
2. While the fish is baking, stir the egg, tarragon, and lemon juice into the butter.
3. Transfer the fish to a platter and pour on the butter mixture to serve.
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