Nothing fishy about Seaver’s ‘For Cod and Country’
You want to eat more fish. Ironically for the conscientious consumer, that has become more difficult to do, thanks to a wave of confusing information. Modern seafood cookbooks must explain and enlighten as well as offer accessible recipes; some have risen to this challenge better than others.
Barton Seaver has hit the right notes with his first cookbook, “For Cod and Country” (Sterling Epicure, $30; 175 recipes). For the Washington chef, preparing seafood remains a personal enterprise. Only now, he has the simultaneous pulpits of bound volume, television (his recent “In Search of Food” series on cable’s Ovation Network) and a Web series through National Geographic, where he is a fellow.
If you can look beyond the cheerleading — “You can save the world by eating an oyster, so get to it”; “Delicious is the new environmentalism” — you’ll find his primer and commentary on fish, shellfish and aquaculture are intelligently argued. Eschewing certain cheffy, eco-correct modes of thought, Seaver embraces farm-raised and frozen fish. His recipes are unfussy, if a bit formulaic. The book itself is visually attractive, with design atmospherics done by Seaver’s wife, Carrie Anne.
Most appealing is Seaver’s easy way of imparting techniques, even when he’s a bit of a scold: “People do too much stirring,” he writes. He favors a hands-off, low-heat approach to oven cooking. His takes on cold- and hot-smoking, grilling and filleting are user-friendly.
“Cod” lays out much of what the chef has demonstrated during his restaurant service (Cafe Saint-Ex, Hook, Tackle Box, Blue Ridge) and public speaking engagements. He advocates brining for fish and gives a species-specific, exacting chart of times — although it would have been helpful to reinforce the practice with a mention in the recipes. Citrus is a favorite flavor agent; pepper is too strong, and he disavows the notion that it’s an automatic partner for salt.
And because man does not live by fish alone, Seaver offers ways to prepare salsas, pestos and side dishes, as well as seafood spice mixes, flavored oils and butters. Flip-to-the-back-of-the-book types will be rewarded with his recipe for aromatic kitchen potpourri, to rid your house of seafood cooking smells. More irony: It calls for seaweed.