Saturday, 1 December 2012

Editing Manuscripts ... Like Deboning Fish

Sometimes, cookbook editing is the pits, especially for multilingual cookbooks. Grammar can be flexible, the writing can be boring and, if the recipes look good, you're hungry even before you're halfway through.

The instructions, however, have to be concise and clear-cut.

I spent far too much time on Thursday quibbling with a sales exec (and sometimes proofreader) about whether a word should be standardised as "fillet" or "fillets" throughout the whole book. One of them situational things.

When you say "300g of grass carp fillet", do you expect one fillet to weigh exactly 300g, or a bunch of fillets weighing 300g in total?

But if you say "2 Spanish mackerel fillets", then it can't be "fillet" in the ingredients list or instructions, right?

And what happens to the "fillet(s)" when you cut it (or them) into strips or pieces?

In some of the recipes, chunks of Spanish mackerel so do not look like they were filleted. Some recipes even instruct the reader to "debone" actual fillet(s).

To quote the meaning of "fillet" in a culinary context from the Wiktionary (italics mine): "A strip or compact piece of meat or fish from which any bones and skin and feathers have been removed."

Like what you see below.

Mackerel fillets; image from

The mackerel "fillets" in the recipes look like:

Mackerel steak; image from

The whitish thingy in the centre is the spine. That's a mackerel steak. Though I'm not sure if it's known as such in Malaysia.

...Talk about bone(s) of contention.

I finally decided that if the number of pieces is stated it's "fillets". If the weight is mentioned, it's "300g of grass carp fillet" - like in this recipe - because when it comes to meat, people usually say "300g of beef/chicken/pork". Though one might be in a quandary when confronted with "brinjal", "pumpkin", "zucchini", "endive" or "tomato(es)".

As for the instructions, I cut out "fillet(s)" altogether, where applicable, and used either "fish" or the type of fish. Except for recipes where the number of pieces are mentioned. I have no clue as yet about what to do with the Spanish mackerel.

...maybe deboning fish would be much hard- sorry, easier.


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