Maribél the Fish Monger

I recently made a resolution to slow down and to pay attention to the sights, sounds, smells and people around me. And I am so glad I did.

It’s Lent so for us that means more frequent trips to the fish market. I usually look around at the various fish offerings, but I am always attracted to one stand in particular, usually on account of their tremendous display of  monkfish and other critters from the Cantabrian coast.

Although I had things to do, I told Maribél (featured here, and holding one of these creepy monkfish) that we were leaving Spain. She was very sad to hear the news and we were talking for a good 10 minutes about various topics related to this, primarily the goodness of what lies ahead and what the opportunity to be close to family. We both understood each other perfectly well when we realized that not having Spanish nationality and living in Spain complicates things a lot, not just with the mass of paperwork that is needed, but also with the future opportunities that not having nationality prohibits.

Maribél and a Monkfish!

Maribél herself is from the Dominican Republic and married to a Spanish man. She has been working at the fish shop for a good 3 years.

Eventually she asked what kind of fish I might want and I found some “carrilleras de bacalao,” basically cod cheeks — very tender! I asked her if she might have a recommendation on how to cook them and her eyes lit up. She told me a good length how to make them with a green sauce, including how to make the fish stock that would be used to add additional flavor.

She then asked if I had fish stock at home, (This is Spain, so it’s possible I might have) and I said that I didn’t. She told me to hang on a minute. She ran and grabbed a big fish head and started taking the giant clever and splitting it in two. She was getting me the fixings for the fish stock without me even asking! Then she offered me a huge bunch of fresh parsley to make the green sauce. This plus the 1.5 lbs of fish came to a measly €7,32. I don’t know if I have ever been so excited to boil fish heads in a pot, but that Friday I was.

We said goodbye over more conversation, and she confirmed when I was leaving, but of course, I said I would be back many times before we left and would be visiting soon. She insisted that I come back to visit when we did visit Pamplona next.

Fish heads, fish heads, rolly polly fish heads…

I had spent the last 5 days or so trying to figure out what it was that I had done to deserve such undivided, personal attention. What was it about this fish shop that allowed them to both stay in business and also provide this kind of service. A friend recently told me the exact reason, it was because I had offered her the personal gift of my time, my interest and my ears. I had been genuinely open to a human connection with this person, one that could have been fishy but ended up with a delicious meal (don’t worry the recipe is below).

When we have the opportunity to work with anyone, the genuine interest and openness that we offer them is both immediately apparent and also obvious. Otherwise we fall into the take-a-number service that we are so tired of as a culture and as a nation. This does cost us something, though, it costs us time. We think that time owns us so much of the time, when the fact is that there is always enough time for everything. It is in our own minds that we do not have enough time. It is this slavery to the clock that prevents our ability to engage each other in meaningful relationship and dialogue, and as one of Germanic and British origin I am more guilty of this than anyone.

Take time this week to be present to the sights, smells and the people around you. Look for the gifts of people’s time and attention that many freely offer, and do not turn down one of these valuable opportunities. That will lead to greater inspiration and creativity in your own life and in those around you.

Alright here is the recipe for Maribél’s Carrilleras de Bacalao


  • 1.5 lbs of cod cheeks (serves 4)
  • 1 small-medium onion
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 1 bunch of fresh parsley
  • 1/3 cup white wine.
  • 1 tbsp corn starch or 2 tbsp tapioca flour (arrowroot can also work)
  • Oil, salt, pepper, water, etc.


  1. Get some nasty bits of fish (head, spine, etc) that the fishmonger would otherwise throw away. Make sure to get a head and have him or her cut it in half (or do it yourself). Set this to a boil in a pan, and just cover with water, you wont need much. Let this lightly boil for 45 minutes.
  2. Salt and pepper the cod cheeks and set aside.
  3. In a large pot, take a diced onion and begin to carmelize (i.e. add salt) in about 3 tbsp of oil.
  4. Meanwhile, mince fresh parsley (must be fresh) to get 1/4 cup finely chopped.
  5. As the onion starts to turn brown, add a diced garlic.
  6. Make sure the fish stock is ready, then add the tappioca flour and allow it to bubble for a few seconds.
  7. Add the white wine to deglaze the pan. Don’t let it all evaporate.
  8. Add the parsley and stir it in. Allow the mixture to heat up and start to thicken a bit.
  9. Add the cod cheeks and let them sear just slightly (1 minute) then add enough fish stock just to cover the surface of the cheeks. Do not use too much!!!
  10. Allow to simmer for 30 minutes, then serve! Add a bit more fresh parsley as a garnish / for presentation.
Here is an excellent example of the consistency of sauce you should be aiming for. Note this isn’t carilleras but other parts of the cod and mussels in this picture.
Here is mine, I used a bit too muchstock and parsley so it looks a bit soupy.


















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