The next time someone tells you they have better fish to fry, remind them that virtue also lies in poaching, grilling, roasting, baking and tossing our fine-finned friends into salads.
Fish are a summer delight, easy to prepare and doing no caloric damage to bodies trotting about in swimsuits. Most of the seafood stands at the Maine Avenue wharf are open even on Sunday. To get there, take 9th Street NW until it dead-ends at Maine Avenue, turn right and drive down to the wharf.
A good source for fishy ideas is Vincenzo, a restaurant which opened recently at 1606 20th St. NW. It serves only seafood. All dishes are done in the Italian style (cooked with olive oil, not butter), and they serve a seafood salad which can be imitated easily for a summer dinner.
Use clams, shrimp and squid, or, if they're not available, substitute mussels, bay scallops, or octopus. Squid usually can be found at Cannon Seafood, 1065 31st St. NW, and they will tell you how to clean it. Cook a medium-sized squid in acidulated water for about half an hour, until it is firm but not chewy. Drain and slice the body into rings 1/4-inch wide. Hold the tentacles under warm water and rubs off the ink-colored skin. Remove the suctions at the end of the tentacles (these tend to give the salad a gritty taste) and cut the tentacles into small pieces. t
Steam the clams in a heavy-bottomed pan until they open, remove from the shell and, placing them in a cheesecloth bag or a strainer, rinse under cold water to remove sand and grit. Save the steaming liquid.
Add a little wine to a pot of water, bring to a boil and add the fresh shrimp. When the shrimp turn pink, about the time the water returns to the boil, they are done. Shell and devein them.
Mix the seafood together with capers, thinly sliced celery and red peppers and fresh Italian parsley. Add sea salt to taste. Dress the salad with one tablespoon of the reserved clam juice mixed with olive oil and a little lemon juice, and serve with lemon wedges. Vincenzo uses Madre Sicilia olive oil, available at Litteri's, 517 Morse St. NE.
Serve the salad with crusty Italian bread and a light white wine like an Italian Tocai.
Another possibility -- done enough in advance to give your kitchen a chance to cool down -- is to roast one or two 3-pound sea bass for 20 to 30 minutes in a 450-degree oven. Skin it, bone it, and pull the flesh apart into small chunks. Serve on a platter with oil, salt and pepper and lemon wedges, as a finger-food appetizer, or as a casual, sit-on-the-floor meal for a few friends.