For all their good intentions, sustainable seafood experts often make recommendations that I find difficult to follow through on.
Eat a diversity of fish, especially more small fish, like herring and sardines. If only. Where do I find them? And what do I do with them once I’ve got them?
Eat locally and seasonally – an echo of the land-based local food movement. Again, great idea. And living on Cape Cod, I’ve got a better shot than many at finding locally caught seafood. But seasonally? With the possible exceptions of salmon (fall run coho is my all-time favorite) and shellfish (Remember the old adage about only eating shellfish during months with an R?), I’ll admit to being at a bit of a loss. The fish counter – even my local fish markets – look largely the same year-round.
I was talking through some of this with a local sustainable seafood advocate a few weeks ago when she suddenly said “Ooohh! There’s a cookbook you need to see!” She put me in touch with chef Barton Seaver (well, the project manager for his new book), and voila, I soon had a pre-print copy of Seaver’s soon-to-be-released cookbook, For Cod and Country.
Before I share my opinions about the book, I think it’s only fair to tell you where I’m coming from. I’m not a chef, or food critic, or book critic. I’m a busy working mom who, in my pre-child life, enjoyed long evenings of cooking, eating, and drinking good wine. I had subscriptions to at least three different food magazines. Needless to say, my cooking habits have changed in the four years since we welcomed our first son. Now, my idea of a great recipe is one that involves no more than six ingredients and thirty minutes, and yet still produces something healthful and delicious. It’s kind of a high bar, but For Cod and Country hits the mark.
That’s the first of three reasons to love this book:
1) Real-life cooking. In the introductory chapter (I know, who reads that stuff?), Seaver talks about his formative food experiences in a kitchen that sounds remarkably similar to my own – with head chefs (a.k.a. parents) who put a premium on a good meal with family and friends, even when time was short. Seaver says that much of his cooking is based on one idea – great ingredients prepared simply often produces the best food. For Cod and Country is laced with recipes – like tilapia with lemon brown butter, or broiled smelts with lemon and oregano – whose titles pretty much tell the tale. Okay, so Seaver gets fancy sometimes (a cookbook that doesn’t would be rather pedestrian) and many of the recipes list more than six ingredients, but that includes butter or olive oil, salt, and lemon juice – which hardly qualify as ingredients in my book. I’d put them more in the category of kitchen essentials, like knives and pans. The point is that there’s a real focus on real-life cooking, which I love.
2) Seaonal seafood. Another thing I love about the book is the organizational structure – by seasons. Seaver admits that much of the seasonality in his recipes reflects the seasonality of the vegetables he pairs with the seafood (more on that shortly). But there’s also seasonality in the seafood itself, and in the preparation methods. Spring is heavy on the shellfish. Summer is all about grilling, with a healthy dose of fresh tomatoes. And fall gets into the heartier main courses. Then there’s what Seaver calls “a separate season,” also known as Tuesday night – a whole section of quick snacks, drinks, and meals. Personally, I’d say they’re more suited to easy, unexpected entertaining than family meals. Fun, nonetheless.
3) Everything else. Last, but certainly not least, Seaver includes sections on essential herbs and spices, and basic techniques for preparing fish – from filleting, to brining, to smoking. He also includes recipes for some of his favorite side dishes. I’d call that practicing what you preach, since a central part of Seaver’s sustainable seafood philosophy is eating smaller portions of seafood and heaping your plate with vegetables and grains.
Bottom line: This is a book I can’t wait to cook from, and would highly recommend to any seafood lover (or anyone wanting to be convinced into loving seafood, for that matter).
Of course, no cookbook review would be complete without some recipes. Here are a couple from the spring chapter that I’m dying to try. Give one a spin and let me know what you think.
Or on the simpler side:
Reprinted with permission from For Cod & Country, © 2011 by Barton Seaver, Sterling Epicure, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.