Thursday, June 07, 2007

Lair of the White Worm


Warning: This is not my usual cheery restaurant review. It is a gourmet, gross-out story. If you are squeamish, if you have a phobia about parasitic worms, or if you have just eaten, please do not read it.

I warned you.

I have to tell this story. If this is my last post, I wanted you to know what happened to me.

My wife and I are big fans of in-season, wild-caught, Alaskan salmon. When June comes, we start scouring ads from Central Market and Whole Foods, looking for the best deals on our favorite fish. Of course, wild Alaskan salmon isn't cheap. At Central Market for the past few weeks, the price has been hovering around $20 to $26 per pound. When it dips to $19 or less, we buy.

That is why we were stunned to find that Randall's is offering wild-caught, Copper River, sockeye salmon for $9.99. Although it is a few blocks from my house, I usually avoid buying fish from Randall's. I much prefer CM or Whole Foods. But for under $10, we could not resist buying a pound.

I cooked the fish using one of my favorite recipes from Mark Bittman of the New York Times. I heated a frying pan on the highest stovetop setting for 5 minutes, sprinkled in a quarter cup of salt, and then threw in the fish, skin-side-down, for 10 minutes. It's a stinky, smoky preparation. But it is respectful of the fish, which comes out cooked and completely undamaged.

My wife and I then proceed to eat almost the full pound of fish. At the very end of our meal, our 8-year old daughter asks to try it. I give her a few bites.

"Daddy, there is a worm in my fish."

As a parent, your initial instinct is to disbelieve a report of insects or worms in food. Sure, there are white lines in salmon that might look like a worm to a kid. But I had cooked this fish thoroughly. Surely, there was no worm.

Yet she shows me the little white thing, and it does a wiggly dance for us. Then I inspect the rest of the cooked salmon that we have not yet eaten. It is teeming with other squirming white worms.

Within seconds, I was combing the internet, trying to find out what we had eaten. I already know that eating raw salmon can cause you to contract a species of tapeworm. They can grow to 10 meters long and live for 20 years. Fortunately, that worm is treatable.

But I find a worse possibility: the nematode, anisakis simplex, which is not treatable. This is what the Houston Press says about this little worm:

"If the worm perforates the stomach wall and enters the peritoneal cavity, symptoms may suggest acute appendicitis or a gastric ulcer. Since humans are not the definitive host species for this worm, the luckiest patients simply cough up the inch-and-a-half-long creature. For most others, fiber-optic endoscopy will allow the physician to spot the worm and remove it with the endoscope's grappling tool. For maybe 10 percent or so of victims, those who have the nematode set up house in their small intestine, only a surgical resectioning of the infested portion of the bowel will rid them of the creature."

Lovely.

After reading this, my wife manages to gag herself and expel most of the fish. I am not so lucky. I cannot make myself throw up. So I try the next best thing -- drinking large quantities of Scotch. I hope to induce vomiting or drown the worms. But I find it difficult to drink a lot of Scotch. So ultimately, I just fell asleep.

Now, it's the middle of the night. I am wide awake, terrified of what is crawling around inside me. I am thinking about the movie Alien. And I wonder, when will the severe intestinal distress begin? Will I cough up a giant worm? Will I have to have a surgical resectioning of my bowels?

Plus, I have a terrible headache from all the Scotch.

I resist the temptation to criticize Randall's fish counter. Yes, I dislike going to Randall's. I don't like their cheesy supermarket music. I don't like the quality or selection of their produce. And I don't like their choices of foods to stock. But I have no evidence to criticize Randall's fish -- well, no evidence except one worm-infested filet of salmon.

If you ever get a deal on wild Alaskan salmon that is too good to be true, inspect your fish -- very carefully. Or your intestines may also become the Lair of the White Worm.

12 comments:

Scott said...

Did your outing at Trulucks inspire you to eat the Copper River sockeye salmon at home? My mother had a similar experience with sushi. She still can't eat raw fish.

anonymouseater said...

Well, it wasn't just Trulucks. I cook and eat a lot of salmon in summer and avoid it the rest of the year.

But, like your Mom, now my fish tastes are about to change.

Maybe I'll switch to eating canned sardines.

Sam said...

I am never eating salmon again. And I am completely freaked out that I have eaten a lot of salmon from Randalls in the past year.

Alice said...

Randall's doesn't have very fresh seafood from my experiance. They have good beef.

Tiffany said...

So, what happened? Did your kids eat the worms too?

anonymouseater said...

Tiffany -- I don't know whether my daughter swallowed a worm or not. She had about 3 bites before she spotted one.

So far, after almost 48 hours, we are all ok.

I suspect most of us eat that sort of thing occasionally, but we just don't notice it. It is an inevitable result of being so high up the food chain.

As long as we have no long term effects, I can just laugh it off.

Anonymous said...

Had similar experience last night with our copper river salmon from WHOLE FOODS! Our critter did his little dance straight out of the salmon before we cooked it. I was horrified and didn't sleep at all last night. We took the fish back today and Whole Foods was not concerned at all. I'll never forget it and am thinking of becoming a vegetarian.

anonymouseater said...

Sorry that happened to you Anonymous. It really is creepy.

Once I got food poisoning from ground beef and was so sick that I became a vegetarian for three years. But that doesn't completely solve the problem. I frequently find creepy crawlies in my salad greens too.

Like I said in an earlier comment, it may just be the inevitable result of being at the top of the food chain.

Peter said...

Don't blame the fish store -- the nematode eggs got into the fish long before the fish got into the store... blame the earth -- nematodes exist! Unless you live somewhere where the ground freezes for weeks at a time... you can get a rootball nematode infestation in your gut from fresh cut garden vegetables... this is why the average joe and sue want their food irradiated or at least thoroughly boiled for at least 5 minutes. We might be the top of the food change -- but the lowly nematode can have us for breakfast, lunch, and dinner! And yes... a bottle of scotch should be all it takes to clear them out -- do yourself a favor -- use vodka next time :)))

Generic Viagra said...

I can't believe that, after I reading this article I realize that I should avoid eating fish because it could have that little worm, thanks for this advice.

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Sophie said...

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