Cookbooks Embrace Summer's Seafood
By CHARLES BORST
Summer is by far my favorite season in the kitchen. Produce of
all variety abounds at the market. Fresh-caught fish, crabs and
shellfish tempt the eye, mouth and wallet.
Granted, food of this sort can make for great eating with little
or no embellishment, but two recently published cookbooks, "Fish
on a First Name Basis" and "¡Baja! Cooking on the
Edge," emphasize seasonal cooking and expand culinary skills.
That the two books' recipes for summer's bounty can be fearlessly
mixed and matched only adds to their attraction.
If, like me, you've ever wondered what makes a "jumbo shrimp,"
or if it is really safe to eat an oyster in a month that doesn't
end in the letter "R"--as well as how to properly prepare
these and other seafood treats--then "Fish On A First-Name
Basis" by Rob DeBorde will make a valued addition to the kitchen.
At just under 200 pages, the well-illustrated paperback combines
useful facts, secrets and great recipes for 18 different fish and
shellfish ranging from salmon to squid to Patagonian toothfish,
aka Chilean sea bass. The very readable chapters are broken down
into the background, biology and history of the each species, followed
by preparation and recipes. As the author explains, this education
can be a good thing: "Will knowing that catfish have taste
buds covering every inch of their bodies really make your dinner
taste better? Yes. Yes, it will. (And if it doesn't, it'll at least
make you more fun at parties.)"
This irreverent, yet instructive "cooking should be fun"
tone found throughout the book will be very familiar to anyone who
watches Alton Brown on television's Food Network, for DeBorde is
a staff writer for Brown's shows. As a TV writer, DeBorde is also
practiced at keeping his audience's attention: His light and informative
touch with the science really does help the reader appreciate the
As with any cookbook, however, it is the recipes that matter, and
DeBorde does not disappoint. Beginning with the dictate to "buy
the freshest fish or shellfish you can find and cook it as little
as possible," the book's recipes are intuitive, diverse and
really tasty. The Grilled Red Snapper I tried left dinner guests
wowed, while the Shrimp Scampi with Pasta satisfied the garlic lovers
in the house. And while I don't agree with DeBorde's assertion that
"Dungeness crab is better than blue crab," this book does
have a recipe for Buttermilk Crab Fritters that left even my crabcake-loving
wife reaching for more.
With a combination of satisfy- ing recipes, knowledge of all things
that swim, and dry wit, "Fish On A First-Name Basis" has
"¡Baja! Cooking on the Edge" by Deborah M. Schneider
is a wonderful culinary exploration of Mexico's Pacific promontory.
The author combines her experiences as former magazine editor turned
Baja beach bum, and current San Diego restaurant chef, onto the
pages of "¡Baja!," detailing a cuisine and way of
cooking that is as varied and untamed as the land itself.
Do not look to this book for what most of us think as "Mexican
food," for as Schneider tells us, "In most of Mexico,
a burrito is a small draft animal with long ears and a sweetly stubborn
disposition, used to haul heavy loads." The closest one comes
instead are recipes for authentic tacos and refreshing salsas that
are served up throughout the Baja region.
The real fun of this book begins where Schneider delivers menu
ideas that celebrate the abundance of ingredients native to the
land and sea of the Gulf of California. In doing so, she has created
the quintessential "go to the market and see what's available"
cookbook, full of recipes that demand fresh fish, meats, vegetables
and fruits. Thankfully, most of the items called for in "¡Baja!"--ingredients
such as tomatillos, jicama, peppers of all sorts, spices, even nopales
(young flat paddles from beavertail cacti), can be found in Fredericksburg's
bigger supermarkets or Latino food stores. For those not familiar
with this regional cuisine, it's well worth the effort to sample
these recipes, for the effort one puts forth procuring and preparing
these foods will be applauded at the table. I earned rave reviews
when I served up the Garlic Cilantro Steak With Avocado and Tomatillo
Salsa alongside Grilled Vegetables With Tomato Emulsion. The bright
and uniquely fresh tastes were the perfect celebration of summer's
bounty, a meal that combined the best a farm stand has to offer
with the uniquely satisfying taste of the grill. Indicative of the
quality of the book's recipes, this only hints at the variety found
throughout. Reading "¡Baja!" and cooking from its
lushly photographed 274 pages easily transports you to a land where
great food is as rewarding and stimulating as a fresh ocean breeze.
Charles Borst is the director of photography at The Free Lance-Star
and a dedicated home chef.