Sunday, December 11, 2011

Weekly Whine: Bones

As an anniversary gift soon after my older daughter was born, my husband paid for a personal chef to cook us some meals. It cost about $300 for 16 portions, which ended up being close to $20 each. Kind of a lot of money for food you're eating out of a box from your freezer. But admittedly, the food was really, really good, and it was a rare treat. (The baffling thing was that after the chef delivered the food, she asked, "What would you like me to make for you next week?" Did she honestly have a clientele that was paying her $300 per week for food for one person?)

Anyway, a year later, we decided to hire her again. This time one of the dishes we asked her to make was salmon.

Overall, I thought the quality of the dishes she made was not quite as good as a year earlier. But one thing that really surprised me was that I found bones in the salmon. Now it's not like I'm some kind of salmon connoisseur, but I like salmon a lot, and I eat it a good amount, and this was possibly the first time I'd ever found bones in a professionally cooked salmon. I mean, I get salmon at freaking Chili's and it doesn't have bones in it.

So obviously, I was sort of pissed off. I emailed her about it and this was her response:

I tried to get all the bones out of the salmon but some of them you just can't feel. Sorry about that.

Basically, she acted like it was unavoidable that there would be bones in the salmon. I say this is bullshit. If I'm paying $20 per portion, I want salmon that doesn't have bones that are going to stab the back of my throat.

Finally, she refunded us half the money for the salmon dish. (I actually tossed it after finding the bones because I was so disgusted.) Obviously we never hired her again. And I checked just now and her website is gone.


  1. With this attitude, little wonder her website is gone.

  2. I'm glad you agree. She made me feel like I was asking too much in expecting there not to be bones.

  3. At $20 a plate I certainly wouldn't be willing to accept bones in my salmon! That's a pretty pricy meal service...although I'm not surprised that there are people who spend that much on a weekly basis. Once I'm actually working and have paid off my ridiculously large debt, I hope to have "people" to do all the things I don't have time for - cleaning, laundry, cooking - even if the meals cost $300 a week.

  4. Um... Salmon have intramuscular bones, sometimes called pin bones. It's not really safe to ever assume that they're not present in a given piece.

    These bones are not connected to the skeleton, they stiffen the fish for swimming. Normally they stick out a millimeter or so from the filet and can be removed via tweezers. But if the filet was cut very close to the rib cage when the fish was cleaned, they can be buried in the flesh and not visible. (If the fish was steaked, they're almost always present depending on thickness.) This is less common lower quality (smaller) salmon, as there is less space between the ribs and the pin bones for a knife to slip through.

    I'm not commenting on the customer service aspect of the chef incident, but the chef was basically correct.

  5. I've watched enough Top Chef to know that leaving bones in the salmon is considered an unforgivable sin in the culinary world

  6. KarateSocks: Yes, I can totally picture Padma saying in her droll voice, "I found a bone in mine." And everyone gasps and tsks. And then the chef is sent home. (Although a fish scale would be worse.)

    Anon87: Then how come Chili's and Pizzeria Uno's salmon never has bones? I get it all the time and I've never once found a bone. Is their quality control really better than a personal chef?

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  8. Gonna have to agree with Anon87USAzar here. You basically way overreacted to something that is often unavoidable. Top Chef acquired culinary knowledge or no, salmon has bones, as do most non-rendered fish. It would basically be similar to a patient insisting that 100% of the time you give penicillin, you never have an allergic reaction. After all, you're the professional, right? You're supposed to know when people are going to be allergic! These things happen and they're often not predictable. Probably owe the chief an apology.

  9. Pluripotent: This was many years ago and there's certainly no way I'd apologize to her. You didn't repond to my point about never finding bones in salmon at low end chain restaurants. And this wasn't ONE bone... it was multiple bones. I've swallowed bones before and it's HORRIBLE if it gets stuck in your throat. If this happened with any kind of frequency, I wouldn't order fish.

  10. I think Anon87 answered the question. These chain restaurants are using cheaper, smaller cuts of salmon. The fish are much younger, probably farmed, and the bones are most likely there, they are just too small to notice. You are eating them. I've eaten lots of fish with and without bones. I eat salmon all the time, and it's not a problem to take the bones out. Never swallowed one. I certainly wouldn't complain about a bone in my salmon at any restaurant or personal chef cooked meal. She probably prepared some choice cuts of fish, and like anon said, the bones are not always apparent no matter how diligent the chef is, unless you want to cut it up into small pieces and make fish nuggets out of it, there are going to be bones sometimes.

  11. I would have been much happier if she prepared a thinner cut of salmon and got all the bones out. I don't recall her using a salmon steak or anything significantly bigger than Chili's, but maybe it was a subtle difference. If she had offered to replace the salmon dish with a cut that was smaller and didn't have bones, I would have accepted that.

    As I said, I've swallowed bones accidentally before and it's very unpleasant. Also, I have a child who was going to have some of the salmon (which she knew) and I don't think I should have had to mash apart the fish to find all the bones she missed.

    Incidentally, bones aside, the salmon didn't taste that great. Maybe she needed to train at Chili's.

  12. Depending on the age of the child, probably inappropriate to feed salmon fillets to children. Kids can have fish sticks (rendered and boneless) until they're sophisticated enough to handle an occasional bone without getting it caught in their throat.

    I am reminded of a short story by Hermann Hesse where he describes visiting an old blind woman who served him coffee from a cup that he described as being well used and not well cleaned. He thought that most likely, most of his German friends and neighbors would recoil from the cup and refuse the drink, but that it was also the best cup of coffee he ever tasted, and refusing it would have deprived him of the experience of the company of the woman.

    You say the salmon was bad. Fair enough. We'll have to just disagree about the bones.

  13. Pluripotent: My daughter loves salmon at restaurants and as I said, I've never found a bone in a restaurant, so I don't consider it to be a risk.

    Anyway, I'm not a snob. You haven't seen my home, but trust me, I'm not. An expensive fish full of sharp bones that doesn't even taste very good is not acceptable to me. If she wanted to keep us as a customer, she would have either offered a substitute dish or a refund for that one meal. Obviously, I'm right because her business failed soon after that.

  14. In every restaurant I've ever cooked in, bones in your fish is not appropriate. If the prep cook that day didn't check the fillet before he / she portioned it out, then there'd be serious words. I've been yelled at and threatened with termination and bodily harm (in that order) for far worse. Sounds like your "chef" didn't have a clue what she was doing.

    Fizzy: Feel free to feed your daughter fish at restaurants - bones are a mistake and, if there are any in your dish, feel free to send it back to the kitchen. That's one of the few reasons that I would ever send something back to the kitchen.