Next time someone promises you the world, take it in fish. Take it in Gulf oysters, Alaskan Snow Crab, Carolina Mountain Trout, monkfish from Georges Bank, black sea bass from Virginia waters, mahi-mahi from Hawaii. Make sure bluefish from the mid-Atlantic, Maine lobster, Block Island swordfish, and escolar, halibut's Pacific relative, are included.
Times and palates have changed in our little town. As the demand for fresh fish has increased, supermarkets and specialty shops have expanded their offerings. Cunningham's Market, a premier butcher shop, now offers fresh fish Thursday through Sunday. Par Avion, formerly Sebastiani's Gourmet World, does the same every day. Fish arrive from Boston, San Francisco and Honolulu, looking better than I ever did on similar journeys. The array of choices will stagger you.
But then what are you going to do? Those of us who think nothing of slapping a burger on the grill blanch at the thought of grilling fish (shrimps on the barbie notwithstanding).
Take heart, landlubbers; help is available in some wonderful cookbooks, available at local bookstores, and from local fish mongers.
"There is no great trick to cooking seafood," is Shirley King's comforting first line in her terrific primer, Fish: The Basics (Houghton-Mifflin, $20/paperback). She assumes nothing about her readers, explaining how to select fish in the market, how much to buy, how to gut, fillet, bone and butterfly a fish.
The recipes are broad suggestions of cooking techniques and the fish that work best with each method. For example, she provides a list of 29 possible fish for which grilling works, a variety of suggested herbs to sprinkle on both the fire and the fish, a list of special ingredients like a two-sided hinged grill or a fish basket, and a useful way to avoid the embarrassment of offering your guests half-cooked fish: Have an oven prudently preheated to 425.
The lovely line drawings of fish and preparation techniques; the cholesterol, Omega-3 and fat contents of each fish; the useful information on basic sauces, flavored butters and accompanying wines and vegetables, will toss any apprehensions you have about cooking fish out the window.
Dart Sebastiani of Par Avion, has a simple preparation for monkfish, called the poor man's lobster because of its sweetness and texture. He butterflies the tail, fills it with freshly chopped herbs from the garden, rolls it up, ties it together, brushes with olive oil and grills to perfection.
Marinating fish adds flavor and complexity. Jackie Williams of Cunningham's Market offers this favorite:
Tequila Lime Marinade
1/8 cup pineapple juice
1/2 cup lime juice
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1 shot each of Tequila and Triple Sec
1 tablespoon garlic powder, or 1 clove fresh garlic, minced
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon honey
Bunch of cilantro, chopped
Pinch of salt, pepper, thyme
Whisk all ingredients together. Marinate any firm fish like halibut, tuna, shark, mahi-mahi for 20 minutes. Brush with marinade while grilling.
The Thrill of the Grill by Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby (Wm. Morrow & Co., $25/hardcover), a favorite barbecue cookbook of mine, has a terrific recipe for Grilled Bluefish (a strong, oily fish) with Chipotle Vinaigrette (an equally strong and appropriately acidic topping):
4 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon brown mustard
1 tablespoon pureed chipotle pepper
1 teaspoon chopped cilantro
4 tablespoons lime juice
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Whisk together all ingredients. Add salt and pepper to taste. Grill bluefish filets 10 to 12 minutes, covered. Uncover, flip filets and grill an additional 5 minutes. Place on a platter. Pour vinaigrette over filets. Garnish with sliced limes, chopped red onion, additional cilantro.
Were it not so useful, Fusion Food Cookbook by Hugh Carpenter and Teri Sandifon (Artisan Books, $35/hardcover) with its gorgeous photographs, would be a good coffee table book. But it belongs in the kitchen where you can follow the directions.
Grilled Salmon with New World Pesto
New World pesto:
8 cloves garlic
1 cup fresh basil leaves
3/4 cup fresh mint leaves
1/2 cup fresh cilantro sprigs
Packed cup roasted cashews
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon Asian chile sauce
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
In a food processor with the motor running, drop garlic down the tube followed by the shallots. Add mint, basil and cilantro and mince finely. Add nuts and mince finely. With motor running, add the oil in a slow steady stream. Add the salt and chile sauce, and process for 10 seconds. Add cheese. Set pesto aside.
Marinade for the salmon:
6 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup light olive oil
1/4 cup white wine
Teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Whisk together all ingredients. Pour over 2 lbs. fresh salmon filet. Marinate 15 minutes.
Grilling the salmon: Lay salmon, skin side down on a pre-heated grill. Cover and cook about 12 minutes, or until it begins to flake with poked with a fork. Carefully lay a spatula under the salmon and lift off grill, leaving the skin on the grill. Put fish on a platter.
Putting it together:
1 cup whipping cream
1/4 cup white wine
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Bring cream and wine to a rapid boil. Add 1 cup New World Pesto sauce. Spoon over fish. Serve immediately, accompanied by the freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
So what will you be grilling on the Fourth of July?