|By JULIETTE ROSSANT|
If last year was the year of vegetable cookbooks (think Mark Bittman's gigantic How to Cook Everything Vegetarian (see Super Chef's review), this year is stacking up to be the year of seafood and meat. Super Chef will get to the meat in other reviews. But as for seafood, that impression is based on the paperback edition of Rick Stein's Complete Seafood, Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook (see SuperChef's review) and on Rick Moonen first –and long-awaited book, Fish Without A Doubt: A Cook's Essential Companion (Houghton Mifflin 2008) written with Roy Finamore. Rick Moonen is one of America's pre-eminent chefs dedicated to seafood. Fish Without a Doubt is a comprehensive, instructive book about how to prepare simple to complex seafood recipes from a master teacher.
The book starts with several useful sections on choosing and preparing fish for a recipe. The idea is to learn simpler techniques first and then apply them to different fish in different recipes. If you are a novice fish cook, then don't skip the Introduction, Rick will calm your fears:
I start with the most forgiving techniques. Poaching may seem old-fashioned, but cooking fish in a moist, flavored bath protects its delicate flesh. Like poaching, steaming is forgiving. It's not easy to overcook fish when you steam it. The moist heat keeps the fish's own natural juiciness inside it.(p. 14)Soon, you'll be ready for Rick's fried calamari secrets or his chowders. The Introduction includes sections on the "best" fish to eat (p. 16) and those that are endangered from over fishing.
There is a nifty section on Preparing Fish and Shellfish for Cooking and Serving (p. 33) with step-by-step photos by Ben Fink – everything from Cleaning a Round Fish (p. 34) to Cleaning Soft-Shell Crabs (p. 42) to Dispatching a Lobster (p. 46). But also check out the handy Notes on the Fish in this Book (p. 55) in which Rick describes in detail what a good specimen will look like, how to buy it, and how best to cook the fish. You'll find good tips on buying mussels, to cooking fresh sardines as quickly as possible – if its summer, they are oilier so Rick recommends that you grill them.
Finally, the recipe chapters are full of chatty information about how to get good results from the clear, well-written recipes. The Shrimp Cocktail (p. 84) from the poaching is simple, just as it should be. You make a court bouillon, cook the shrimp, cool them and serve them with homemade cocktail sauce (p. 421). From the Steaming and Boiling chapter come basic recipes for Stovetop Clambake (p. 110) made in Chinese bamboo steamers. Rick includes a recipe for Better Boiled Lobster (p. 118) – the trick is to turn off the water and leave the lobster in for 20 minutes so that the usual white scum doesn't form. But he also has recipes for Butter-Poached Lobster with Cauliflower Puree (p. 92) that is accompanied by a guide to Blanching Lobster (p. 93). Rick includes recipes for chowders, bisques, salads, and even a lobster roll. You'll have more than enough good recipes for lobster alone in this book.
With the world's seafood stocks in scary decline – and doctors urging us to eat more – it is important to learn to cook seafood right. Fish Without a Doubt will go a long way to helping home cooks create memorable dishes. Give it to a graduating college student heading for their first job and first apartment kitchen. Maybe you'll get invited over for Sautéed Striped Bass with Orange-Soy Vinaigrette (p. 244).
Rick Moonen on Work and Passion
Profile: Rick Moonen in Las Vegas
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