Due to health, environmental and animal welfare concerns we eat a lot of seafood in my household. If it’s considered safe and sustainable, then it probably will end up in my oven or on my grill. Frequently aiding me with all this fish and shellfish has been New York Times food journalist Mark Bittman and his cookbook Fish (Wiley Publishing Inc., 1994). In Fish Bittman covers 70 types of seafood. Standards such as salmon, shrimp and tuna appear alongside the less commonplace cobia, eel and wolffish. In all likelihood, if my fishmonger carries it, this cookbook will it, too.
Fish begins with sections on how to purchase and prepare seafood. Cleaning, filleting, and cooking all get equal due. Likewise, techniques such as smoking, grilling, poaching and roasting are explained in detail.
Arranged alphabetically, the subsequent entries provide a history and/or physical description, buying advice and recipes for each fish. In a few instances, such as with bonito, cobia and John Dory, specific recipes don’t appear. Instead I’m directed to consult entries on similar seafood for cooking tips. Nonetheless, I still receive general descriptions and buying advice. Believe me, those tips come in handy, particularly when I’m dealing with an inexperienced or apathetic fish guy.
The recipes in Fish work well for beginners as well for more seasoned cooks. Take, for instance, the entry on cod. Here novices find out how to broil it with butter, salt and pepper and serve it with wedges of lemon. Meanwhile, old hands learn how to create the more complex creamed salt cod mousse.
Like most cookbooks, Fish is not without flaws. For me, the greatest is its failure to provide complimenting flavors and foods for each fish. Unless the reader already knows his flavor affinities or has side dishes in mind, he’ll have to look elsewhere for seafood pairing advice. That might not sound like an inconvenience but the last thing that a time-pressed cook wants to do is waste hours scouring the Internet or rummaging through books, searching for the right side for sturgeon or tilefish.
In spite of imperfections Fish offers a great deal to cooks. From the conventional to the exotic and a wealth of seafood in between it guides them through successfully selecting and preparing fish and shellfish. No wonder it remains one of my favorite cookbooks.