Two summers ago I was invited to Alaska by the Seafood Marketing Institute to look at the fish. The great outdoors is not my style, so it was with misgiving I donned anorak and sneakers to spend the whole day sitting in a small boat. But the salmon bit on schedule and soon I too was hooked. We baited crab pots in the wilderness as the sun went down, and I managed to land a 20-pound halibut -- good sport as well as excellent eating.
This menu is a souvenir of all I enjoyed on that memorable trip. Barbecued fish kebabs are hard to beat provided they are marinated, then basted often during cooking so they do not dry out. Giant Alaska shrimps are delicious moistened with grated cucumber and spiced with ginger and fresh coriander, an idea that echoes the oriental influence on the Northwest coast.
A firm fish like halibut also makes excellent kebabs. Here, pieces are skewered with slices of spicy chorizo sausage, an idea from western France, where oysters on the half shell are served with hot little sausages. A side dish of chopped tomato and basil, half sauce, half pure'e, happily cools the heat.
In Seattle, on my way back from Alaska, I found baby pepper, eggplant and squash just right for broiling beside the kebabs on the barbecue. The vegetables can be brushed simply with oil and lemon juice or basted with an extra measure of the shrimp marinade.
I was lucky enough to hit berry season and Seattle's Pike Place farmer's market was bursting with novelties like red blueberries, salmon berries (a pink raspberry) and great black boysenberries that exploded like caviar in the mouth.
What better way can fresh berries be enjoyed than packed in a crisp crust of sweet pastry and topped with a tart red currant glaze? This is the moment to look for local strawberries, blueberries or raspberries -- whatever your own farmer's market has to offer. If they can rival the best of the Northwest, you are in for a memorable treat. Timetable
Like all barbecues, half the fun here is sharing preparation and cooking. With the help of three or four friends, an hour is enough to assemble the party.
Up to 3 days ahead: Bake tart shells and store in airtight container.
Up to 4 hours ahead: Make tomato and basil sauce. Chill the wine. Prepare shrimp and halibut kebabs and refrigerate. Prepare vegetables and refrigerate.
Up to 2 hours ahead: Finish fruit tarts and keep in refrigerator. Set the table and prepare barbecue fire.
One hour before serving: Light the fire.
Fifteen minutes before serving: Start barbecuing vegetables.
Ten minutes before serving: Barbecue the kebabs. ORIENTAL SHRIMP KEBABS
For easy eating, the shrimp can be peeled before broiling, but they will not taste as good.
4 pounds large unpeeled shrimp
FOR THE MARINADE:
3/4 cup oil
Juice of 2 limes
1/4 cup grated cucumber
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried chili peppers
1/4 cup chopped fresh coriander
Thread shrimp on 16 small kebab skewers and lay in a shallow dish.
For marinade: Whisk oil with lime juice and add cucumber, ginger, soy sauce, garlic, sugar, salt, dried chili peppers and coriander. Pour over kebabs, cover tightly and leave in refrigerator to marinate up to 4 hours, turning them occasionally.
To finish: light barbecue or broiler. Broil kebabs 2 to 3 inches from heat until lightly brown, turning once. Allow 2 to 3 minutes on each side and baste often with marinade. HALIBUT AND SAUSAGE KEBABS
Any firm fish such as swordfish or monkfish can replace the halibut.
1 1/2 pounds halibut steaks, cut very thick
1/2 pound chorizo sausage
FOR THE MARINADE:
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Cut fish into 1 3/4-inch cubes, discarding skin and bone. Cut sausage in 1/4-inch slices. Thread fish on 16 small kebab skewers with a sausage slice between each cube and lay on a shallow dish.
For marinade: Whisk oil, lemon, garlic, salt and pepper until mixed. Spoon mixture over kebabs, cover with plastic wrap and leave to marinate in refrigerator up to 4 hours, turning occasionally.
To finish: light barbecue or broiler. Broil kebabs 2 to 3 inches from heat until brown, turning them once. Allow 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Serve with tomato and basil sauce. TOMATO AND BASIL SAUCE
(Makes 3 cups)
Lacking basil, add any fresh aromatic herb such as oregano, tarragon or chives.
4 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 cup olive oil
Juice of 2 lemons
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 cup fresh basil leaves, coarsely shredded
Salt and pepper to taste
Put tomato in a bowl and stir in olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, half the basil and salt and pepper to taste. Chill the sauce at least 1 and up to 4 hours.
Just before serving, add remaining basil. BROILED SUMMER VEGETABLES
Simple seasoning is best for fresh summer vegetables.
4 green bell peppers, cored and cut in quarters
4 red bell peppers, cored and cut in quarters
4 small eggplants, cut in 1-inch cubes, with skin
8 small zucchini, cut in 1-inch chunks
8 small yellow squash, cut in 1-inch chunks
4 large sweet onions, cut in eighths
1 cup olive oil
Juice of 2 lemons
Salt and black pepper to taste
Skewer each vegetable individually, using about 12 to 14 kebab skewers. They can be kept, covered with a damp towel, up to 4 hours in the refrigerator.
To finish: light barbecue or broiler. Brush all vegetables with olive oil and sprinkle with lemon juice, salt and pepper. Broil 2 to 3 inches from the heat, basting and turning often, until tender and brown, 8 to 15 minutes, depending on vegetable. BLUEBERRY AND STRAWBERRY TARTS
(Makes 2 tarts to serve 16)
These two tarts reverse each other, one with strawberries, the other with blueberries in the center.
FOR THE SWEET PASTRY DOUGH:
3 cups flour, more if needed
3/4 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
4 egg yolks
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
FOR THE FILLING:
2 pounds blueberries
2 pounds strawberries
1 cup red currant jelly
Make pastry dough: Sift flour onto a work surface and make a well in the center. With your fist, pound butter to soften it slightly. Add butter, sugar, egg and egg yolks, salt and vanilla to well and work with your fingertips until mixed. Using a pastry scraper or metal spatula, draw in flour and work until coarse crumbs are formed. Press dough into a ball; if it is sticky, work in 2 to 3 tablespoons flour.
Lightly flour work surface and blend dough by pushing it away with the heel of your hand and gathering it up with a scraper until it peels easily from work surface, 1 to 2 minutes. Press into a ball and chill 30 minutes.
Divide dough in half, roll out and line the pie pans. Line pie shell with waxed paper, pressing it down into corners, and fill with rice or dried beans. Chill 15 minutes. Heat oven to 400 degrees.
Bake pie shells in oven until set and beginning to brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove paper and rice. Lower oven heat to 350 and continue baking until shells are brown, about 10 minutes more. Note: Do not overcook, as sweet pastry scorches easily. Transfer shells to a rack to cool. Shells can be stored up to 3 days in an airtight container.
Not more than 2 hours before serving, pick over blueberries and hull strawberries. Wash fruit only if sandy. Arrange half strawberries around edge of one shell and other half in circles in center of other shell. Fill gaps in each tart with blueberries.
Melt red currant jelly with 1 tablespoon water. Brush tarts generously with glaze, coating fruits and edge of dough.
Chill until ready to serve. Serve with whipped cream.