Episode Seven: Call Me Irresponsible, and Salmon Marseilles
Across television, movies, music, whatever, there are some accepted truths, which we call tropes, the sort of general themes that come as no surprise and yet don’t necessarily have any place in the real world: the shlubby man-child will have a beautiful wife whose one personality trait is “heinous nag”, the small circle of protagonists will always find a way to hang out together at literally every event without the horror of having to introduce any new characters, the couch at Central Perk will always be free for the six Friends, and the main guy will have what is called the “girl of the week.” You know: there’s a meet-cute (itself, another trope!), a relationship is attempted, and by the end of the episode something will tear them apart and we’ll never hear nor see of this woman again. I suppose when you’ve got 22 episodes per season to fill with plot and can use rotating guest stars to generate publicity, cycling through love interests at a rollicking canter makes total sense. (When the love interest is eventually discarded over a three episode arc we call that Not A Girl Of The Week, Not Yet A Woman.) (I’m kidding.)
So let’s take our protagonist, Frasier Crane. He is not unnattractive - tall, deep-voiced and articulate, a comfortably rich man of moderate celebrity. On the other hand, his hair is fleeing via the back of his head quite horizontally, he wears sweater vests on purpose, has significant relationship baggage, carries himself with an air of deep unrelaxedness, and uses ten words where he could uses three. But the power of the trope overrides all of this, and as such it is to be accepted without question that he manages to continuously land such, as Niles skittishly puts it, babe-o-ramas. (Babes-o-rama?) And this episode is a classic example of this trope in action.
Is a shared enjoyment of yellow M’n’Ms enough to base a relationship upon? For 22 minutes, yes, yes it is.
It’s also a really fun episode. Marco, a total dirtbag, calls in to Frasier’s show to complain about his girlfriend, and Frasier gives him sound advice to cut off the relationship. The girlfriend, Catherine, ambushes Frasier at work to give him a piece of her mind, but realises that he in fact had her best interests at heart. Sparks fly, and they start happily dating. Marco, suddenly truculent since Catherine stood up to him, calls again to the show about wanting to get back with her, and Frasier is all cagey and non-encouraging and “find out why everyone’s talking about Pittsburgh!” Enter Niles, who also ambushes Frasier with the only thing more powerful than his desire to get laid: HIS MORALS. Technically, Frasier cannot be seeing this woman as she is involved with a patient - Marco - and worse still, Frasier has let this involvement influence his advice to Marco.
Frasier is a man who is forever almost getting what he wants and then massively bungling it; where the rest of us could probably quite calmly rationalise seeing the ravishing Catherine in every sense of the word, not least because Marco really does seem like a dick and to be fair, the initial advice was given before any meet-cute was met-cuted. Frasier is instead plagued by stomach-aches every time Catherine lunges sex-wards, and eventually he has to confess to her that he simply can’t. Catherine is outraged, and leaves, not before delivering a fantastically barbed speech about what he’s missing out on (“you’re okay, you won’t be alone tonight. No, you’ve got your ETHICS.”) She’s then gone, never to be seen again, but kudos to Amanda Donohoe for giving her great depth in a very short amount of time and making her highly likeable - I mean like, at the start of the episode she was codependent and stuck in a going-nowhere relationship, a mere 22 minutes later she knows she doesn’t have to wait around for someone who’s not delivering what she wants and needs. Hurrah, Catherine!
Anyway, the recipe: Frasier makes Salmon Marseilles for Catherine, for which google produced precisely one result, basically poached salmon covered in a lot of creamy sauce and breadcrumbs and served with more creamy sauce. I did, however, find another recipe for a Marseilles marinade, which uses fennel and Pernod - and I decided to kind of conflate the two. If you don’t have Pernod in the house - and honestly, why should you - then simply leave it out and add a splash of wine or lemon juice to the pan instead.
Salmon with Toasted Fennel Crumbs, aka Salmon Marseilles
- Two fresh salmon fillets
- Two teaspoons fennel seeds
- two or three slices of white bread
- 40g butter, plus more for frying
- A scant teaspoon Pernod
- Two tablespoons red wine vinegar
Firstly, toast the fennel seeds in a frying pan until lightly browned and fragrant. Bash them in a pestle and mortar and set aside (or if you don’t have one, just leave them whole and be prepared to do a bit more chewing. Heat the butter in the same pan. Remove any crusts from the bread and roughly tear or chop it into small wisps and shreds, then throw all this into the butter. Push the crumbs around the pan with a wooden spoon until they’re uniformly golden brown and crisp, at which point remove them from the pan and mix with the fennel seeds.
Melt a little more butter in the same pan, and sear the salmon on all sides. I tend to go skin side down first just so it gets really crispy and crunchy, but you do as you wish. Salmon is a bit like steak in that you can make it as rare or not rare as you desire, so just keep frying it till it’s how you want.
Remove the salmon to a serving plate. Tip the vinegar and Pernod into the frying pan and immediately remove it from the heat - it will hiss and bubble up fiercely - and then pour this syrupy reduction over the salmon, before scattering over the fennel-y crumbs.
Salmon is extremely, sometimes troublingly rich, and so even though there’s a fair amount of butter here the anise flavour of the fennel tempers it nicely. Once toasted, fennel seeds develop a kind of nutty richness of their own, but there’s that gentle licorice backdrop just to stop everything being all too much.
Tragically, there is no mention of Maris at all this week, and while there’s a brief scene at Cafe Nervosa, no-one’s actual order is mentioned. Lest you think I’ve forgotten about all the other key players though -
Favoured quote: It’s really more about the delivery than the line itself, but there’s a brief scene where Martin and Daphne are trying to take photos for this year’s Christmas cards and Frasier is, unsurprisingly, less than enthusiastic. When he says he doesn’t want to wear an elf hat, Martin, wearing an elf hat of his own, turns to him and says “but if you don’t, it’ll look stupid!” Not much on paper, but the absolute aggrieved look in John Mahoney’s face coupled with the genuinely stupid hat is just wonderful. Props to Niles as well, who can always be relied upon for some witty dispensation; where Frasier’s tested morals give him a stomachache, Niles gets nosebleeds, and he recalls the young brothers purloining a dollar from their mother’s purse - “we left quite the gruesome trail back to the treehouse that day”. Finally, I should probably acknowledge Frasier’s “salmon-chanted evening” and “Laffitte don’t fail me now” puns...but I won’t.
TFW you can only but hope there’s a postal strike this year.