| Contact | Home


  Home > Learning Center > Cookbooks Embrace Summer's Seafood

Cookbooks Embrace Summer's Seafood


Cookbooks Embrace Summer's SeafoodDate published: 8/13/2006


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 accompanying recipes.

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 me hooked.

"¡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.