Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Two Chefs, One Catch: The Holiday Gift for Seafood-Loving Home Cooks

We San Diegans love our seafood. If we have a regional food, for better or worse, it's fish tacos. But the world of seafood is complex and many home cooks are nervous about preparing it, fearing they'll overcook pricey fish or that for all their work, it just won't taste right.

To help home cooks get over their fear, chefs Bernard Guillas and Ron Oliver of The Marine Room have just published their second book, Two Chefs, One Catch: A Culinary Exploration of Seafood (Lyons Press, $35). The book, beautifully photographed by Marshall Williams, contains about 120 recipes, about 80 percent of which were created specifically for the book. In fact, you probably won't find any of these dishes on The Marine Room menu. "They were engineered for the home cook," Oliver says.

With the exception of the first chapter of small bites, the book is organized by species, with plenty of little facts and trivia about them, nutrient information, and recipes listed by country and region. Guillas and Oliver are avid world travelers, who collect recipes and culinary inspiration like tourists collect special trinkets. "The recipes in the book are the accumulation of a lifetime of travel," says Oliver.

In fact, there were surprises. Guillas loves mussels and was surprised to find green-lipped mussels in the Indian state of Goa. Thanks to its southwestern coastal location, Goa was discovered by Portuguese traders back in the 15th century, when they were searching for a trade route. The colonial influences of Portugal still can be found in the cuisine, including seafood curries. Guillas enjoyed these curry pots and created a dish, Goa Mussels Hot Pot, based on his experience--and using green mussels.

Goa Mussels Hot Pot. Photo by Marshall Williams

Writing a seafood book was actually the duo's original idea, before they published Flying Pans, their first book. But, at the time, the publishing world wasn't interested, so they shelved it. Their agent, however, still had the proposal, and with Flying Pans in bookstores, shopped it again to publishers--and surprised them by selling it.

Since their initial idea, they went even deeper, addressing sustainability issues, discussing the pros and cons of farmed versus wild seafood. Their dedication is a virtual mission statement of that approach, "To preserve this enjoyment for generations to come, it is everyone's responsibility to care for our oceans, support sustainable fishery, and make well-informed decisions when purchasing seafood."

Wild Baja Shrimp Cocktail. Photo by Marshall Williams

The recipes are accessible. And they're not all seafood recipes. The chefs create meals with a focus on the seafood, but that also include side dishes, dressings, salsas, salads--anything that they would plate the seafood with. The fun, though, is that while you can create that entire meal as they structured it, you can also pick and choose to pair the seafood recipe in one section with an accompaniment from another. Guillas and Oliver also created a section in the back of the book that addresses seafood substitutions, important given how seasonal and regional various species are. The fundamental idea is to always use the freshest seafood possible. They also include other "bait and switch" options--for pork, fruits and vegetables, herbs, oils, vinegars, spices, and wine and spirits. You'll get quick tutorials on cooking techniques from braising and baking to en papillote and poaching in the back of the book, while in the front they pair their favorite cooking techniques with various seafood species. In the front is also "Ocean 101," which describes the seafood and various varieties, along with how to select and store various fish and seafood. Finally, they include a list of essential tools and utensils that include scales, cast-iron skillets, kitchen shears, fish spatula, and fish descaler.

I visited with the chefs at The Marine Room last week. They prepared their Bacon Wrapped Monkfish Tail for me, accompanied by a green salad with a slice of chevre, cherry tomatoes, and beets. This is a dish created by Guillas, who was raised on the coast of Brittany in France. Monkfish is local to the region and his Uncle Bernard used to prepare it by wrapping the tail in bacon and roasting it over the fire. The result is a sweet and tender fish with a smoky crust.

Bacon Wrapped Monkfish Tail. Photo by Marshall Williams
Last night I made their Olive Oil Poached Salmon with the Crushed Fennel Potatoes. Mine looked much different than theirs, perhaps I overcooked it a bit, but the interior was still a brilliant orange and the texture was luxurious. The aromatics that infused the oil--garlic, sage, thyme, and tangerine zest--gave the fish a sublime, complex flavor--mellow from the sage and garlic, but bright from the thyme and citrus zest. The dish was simple to make, something that the chefs emphasized throughout the book.

"We wanted to focus on simple techniques," says Guillas. "Seafood can be expensive so people want something that will guarantee them a good dish. We're trying to take the intimidation out of preparing seafood."

Olive Oil Poached Salmon. Photo by Marshall Williams
I'm sharing this recipe from Two Chefs, One Catch for you to enjoy.

Olive Oil Poached Salmon with Crushed Fennel Potatoes
from Two Chefs, One Catch
Serves 4

Crushed Fennel Potatoes
2 pounds small gold potatoes, washed
14 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 large fennel bulb, thinly sliced
to taste sea salt
to taste ground black pepper
1 bunch watercress leaves

Add potatoes to lightly salted cold water in large stockpot. Place over medium heat. Bring to simmer. Cook 15 minutes or until tender. Meanwhile add 2 tablespoons olive oil to skillet over medium heat. Add fennel. Cook 3 minutes or until tender, stirring often. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside. Drain potatoes in colander. Add to fennel. Gently crush each potato using the back of a fork. Add watercress and remaining olive oil. Stir to combine. Season again with salt and pepper if needed.

14 cup hazelnut oil
1 tablespoon chopped chives
2 tablespoons Champagne vinegar
1 tangerine, zested, juiced
2 tablespoons chopped,
toasted hazelnuts
14 cup pitted, quartered
kalamata olives
12 cup quartered teardrop tomatoes
to taste sea salt
to taste ground black pepper

In small mixing bowl, combine hazelnut oil, chives, Champagne vinegar, and tangerine juice and zest. Whisk together until well mixed. Add hazelnuts, olives, and tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper.

8 sprigs lemon thyme
4 sage leaves
12 teaspoon cracked
black peppercorns
1 teaspoon sea salt
4 cloves garlic, peeled, sliced
1 tangerine, zested
4 cups olive oil
4 salmon fillets,
boneless (6 ounces each)

Combine thyme, sage, peppercorns, salt, garlic, tangerine zest, and olive oil in wide heavy-bottomed saucepan over low heat to infuse oil. When garlic starts to sizzle slightly, turn off heat. Use tongs to immerse salmon into oil. Steep salmon in oil 10 minutes or until slightly underdone. If necessary, return briefly to low heat to finish cooking process. Salmon should be translucent and bright orange in the middle but flake easily. Transfer salmon to serving plate atop crushed potatoes. Spoon Vinaigrette onto plate. Garnish with thyme sprig and sage leaf. 


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