A cooking challenge organized by Meg of Grow and Resist and Briggs of Oh Briggsy in which we explore a featured cookbook each month. The selection for March is Becky Selengut’s Good Fish, Sustainable Seafood Recipes from the Pacific Coast. This is my second post on the topic. The first one is here.
The recipes in Good Fish by Becky Selengut are exceptional. This book’s going to be in the center of my shelf for a long time. I’m already looking forward to summer.
After my first two experiments using cod, I moved on to salmon. Salmon is even more problematic than cod since there’s so much available from environmentally questionable sources, and there are four main types to choose from, sockeye and coho being the two most often identified. The farmed varieties are pretty suspicious, especially when they’re labeled “color enhanced.” Dyed orange? Really?
Becky’s strong recommendation (she repeated it three times) is wild salmon from Alaska. We do get Alaskan salmon here on the East Coast. There’s a distributor – Otolith – in nearby Philadelphia, which has a relationship with fishermen in Alaska who supply frozen salmon (and black cod) in season. Otolith will ship fish overnight to your house in addition to selling it at a few Philadelphia-area markets. It’s a well-regarded source that I intend to investigate. In the meanwhile, the better fish purveyors around here sell Alaskan salmon, though they won’t stock black cod because of the high price and low demand. For Cook the Books, I made Becky’s excellent Jerk-spiced Salmon with Coconut Pot Liquor and Sweet Potato Fries (p. 109). The fish and fries were served atop kale and beans flavored with coconut milk.
The combination of greens and beans is part of our weekly repertoire at this time of year, as are sweet potatoes, so this was a good test of the book. I loved the spice mix, a combination of cinnamon, allspice, cumin, red pepper and salt, which was sprinkled on the salmon and the sweet potatoes. I would have characterized the seasoning as the Middle Eastern “baharat,” which boasts the same ingredients and, like Becky’s mixture, isn’t as peppery as Caribbean jerk. I also loved the fact that the three components of the meal were perfectly timed to come together at once. I loved the photo demonstration of flaking fish to test for doneness. However, I thought there was something odd about the proportions, maybe a problem with the recipe writing. To make it work, I doubled the kale. Since the kale was sautéed, it didn’t produce “pot liquor,” which was dependent entirely on the coconut milk. I halved the coconut milk and thought that the adjusted proportions made the dish work. My beans were Rancho Gordo scarlet runner beans. Since Becky used canned beans, I adjusted the salt accordingly. I will definitely make this again and will use the seasoning combination in other dishes.
Since I was intrigued with Becky’s twists on the familiar, I made Olive-oil-poached Albacore Steaks with Caper Blood Orange Sauce (page 167). We are able to get excellent albacore tuna from nearby waters, and it has become a favorite in our household. Milder and leaner (therefore drier) than bluefin tuna, it benefits from flavorful companion ingredients like peppers, onions and tomatoes with capers, or here, a spunky orange, caper and green olive salsa. Becky’s tuna recipe was one of the first I selected to try, in part because blood oranges are in season, whereas I’ll have to wait a few months for the accompaniment to the other albacore recipes. They all sound good.
I’ve previously cooked tuna in olive oil to preserve it, using a long slow method recommended by Rick Moonen and Roy Finamore in Fish without a Doubt, a good how-to compendium of ideas for buying seafood responsibly and cooking it well. Becky’s version uses high temperature oil and a short cooking time. It was successful in the sense that the tuna wasn’t overcooked, but I actually prefer a really hot oven or pan to get it to a similar result. I guess the point was that the outside wasn’t browned, although it became seared by the hot oil. The sauce was good, but too acidic, so I added a teaspoon of honey to smooth it out. Also, unlike the perfect timing of the steps in the salmon recipe, this one needed to be executed in reverse order or the fish could become overcooked after removing it from the heat unless it’s sliced immediately.
One thing I like about this book is that Becky explores a bunch of techniques, all of which are intended to cook fish simply and well, and then embellishes the individual preparations with amazing accompaniments with techniques of their own. I like that. It will keep me cooking from this book.