The Big Book of Fish & Shellfish

The Big Book of Fish & Shellfish

by Fred Thompson

In 1994, seventy-five percent of all seafood was consumed in restaurants. That figure has steadily dropped to fifty percent today, which means there is more seafood being prepared in the home. Fred Thompson is addressing this expanding market with more than 250 accessible recipes in his recently published cookbook, The Big Book of Fish & Shellfish. He has gathered many new and recognizable recipes under one tantalizing cover, and wants his audience to feel confident in cooking with seafood.

Each chapter heading introduces a different type of seafood to explore such as Too Good Tentacles – Squid and Octopus and Clams and their Cousins. The seafood department is quickly demystified and the novice cook is empowered with useful knowledge to master seafood cookery: Thompson takes us by the hand and teaches us how to buy, why to buy, and the best ways to prepare fish and shellfish.

The most popular seafood has the most recipes: Shrimp leads with twenty-three followed by twenty for scallops. Fish is divided by texture into Flatfish and Other Small Fish and The Big and Sturdy Fish. Seafood All Mixed Up and Canned, Salted, and a few Smoked complete this extremely well-rounded book. I was personally disappointed that fresh bluefish wasn’t used, nor the northwest favorite, halibut cheeks; but there were so many other intriguing recipes this omission was understandable.

Red Snapper with Sweet Corn “Succotash” is perfect for a summer indulgence: The snapper is simply pan fried in butter, and the succotash has the traditional butter beans replaced with poblano chiles. A touch of heavy cream gives the dish additional richness. Brûléed Salmon with Fresh Grilled Fruit Salsa could become another summer standby, as Thompson lightly coats the skin-on salmon filet with brown sugar before grilling, enabling it to develop a sweet, caramelized surface. Pineapple, nectarines and mango are then grilled and tossed with jalapeño, red onion and chopped cilantro, imparting the familiar traditional flavors to the salsa. This sweet-hot dish would be delicious with coconut rice and soy marinated grilled green beans.

The more adventuresome cook will find interesting recipes for Home-Cured Salmon (a dish using the gravlax technique) with tequila and cilantro instead of the usual Swedish vodka and dill in its preparation. Another cold “cooked” recipe is his very refreshing Colombian Tuna Seviche with pineapple, coconut milk, horseradish, fresh ginger and chipotle chiles as part of the marinade. Thompson says that the usual side dish for seviche is popcorn – it certainly would be a good texture contrast and an intriguing starch addition.

Thompson splits his time between New York City and Raleigh, North Carolina, and his southern roots are well represented here: Barbecued Shrimp on Biscuits pairs common southern ingredients such as grilled shrimp and buttermilk biscuits with a sauce containing beer, ketchup, guava paste and butter. This is a simple, quick and easy, satisfying sandwich. A more complex and no less delicious one-pot entertaining dish is Charleston Seafood Country Captain, a recipe with Low Country heritage using a medley of seafood such as shrimp, grouper, sea scallops and crab meat cooked in a tomato curry cream sauce and served over rice with various Indian garnishes such as almonds, raisins and chutney.

In his introduction, Thompson states: “My hope is that this book will guide you, from the buying process to sitting down to eat. You should feel a bit like I’m in the kitchen with you, or that some of these words will resonate when you step inside the fish market.” The Big Book of Fish & Shellfish easily achieves his goal.

Review by Judith Bishop

Judith Bishop is a cookbook reviewer for the Gilded Fork, as well as a culinary writer and reviewer for In Good Taste in Portland, OR. She has cooked professionally in restaurants and catering, and this month has entered the new millennium with her culinary blog, Stepping off the Edge.