Properly prepared seafood is held in such high esteem by local cooks that any new cookbook hoping to make a splash here would be well advised to include plenty of seafood recipes.
Carol Cutler, author of the newly released "Catch of the Day" (Consumers Union, $19.95, $13.95 paperback), has cut to the chase by devoting an entire book to the fruits of the sea, with purchasing and handling techniques as well as classic recipes.
Still, readers shouldn't expect a book dominated by traditional, Eastern Shore-style dishes. Instead, Cutler has proposed a variety of sophisticated uses for fish, from Baked Salmon with Vegetable Salsa to a satisfying Shrimp and Spinach Pizza. In a recipe for bluefish with broiled grapefruit, I substituted tuna steaks and found the fish, though not as strong as bluefish, held up well to the piquant sauce of soy and lime, with the firm flakes of tuna a nice contrast to the juicy pieces of warm grapefruit. And the Bluefish Cake is no humble cousin to the revered crab cake, but a moist and flavorful patty of its own, with the dark fish dotted with colorful corn kernels and pimento.
Steer clear of the New Wave Tuna Sandwich warned a recipe tester, who called the book's last recipe "misguided" and found both the directions and the final effect perplexing. However, here are some of the book's successful moments:
SHRIMP AND SPINACH PIZZA (6 servings)
1/2 pound small shrimp, peeled
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 pound mushrooms, sliced
10-ounce package frozen whole-leaf spinach, thawed and well drained, or equivalent amount of cooked fresh spinach
4 scallions, cut into pieces
1 cup low-fat ricotta
1/2 tablespoon pesto, or more to taste
1 recipe for homemade pizza dough, or store-bought dough for 1 pizza
6 ounces low-fat mozzarella cheese, shredded
Reserve 4 of the most attractive shrimp and cut rest into 1/4-inch pieces. Put cut-up shrimp in a small bowl, and season with a little salt, pepper and 1/2 tablespoon olive oil. Mix to coat all the pieces and set aside.
Meanwhile, heat a skillet, add 1 teaspoon of olive oil and the mushrooms. Cook over high heat to brown a little and eliminate any moisture; cook, covered, for about 30 seconds. Uncover and season with salt and pepper. Remove and reserve.
Thoroughly squeeze out the water from the spinach, pull apart, and put in a food processor. Add the scallions and pulse a few times to coarsely chop the vegetables. Add the ricotta, pesto, and freshly ground pepper and process for a few seconds. Do not pure'e the mixture; there should be a chunky texture to this pizza topping.
Oil a 14-inch pizza pan with the rest of the olive oil, place the dough on it, and, with oiled hands, spread the dought to cover the surface of the pan, making a thicker crust around the edge. Spread the spinach mixture over the dough. Scatter the saute'ed mushrooms over the spinach topping, then top with the chopped shrimp. Sprinkle the mozzarella over the top, making certain to cover all the shrimp. Reserve a pinch of the cheese. Bake for 12 minutes in a preheated 450-degree oven.
Meanwhile, put the 4 reserved whole shrimp in the bowl used for the shrimp pieces. Turn them over to coat with the residual oil in the dish. Remove pizza from oven, place the 4 shrimp in the center in a spiral pattern, and drop the pinch of reserved cheese in the center. Return the pizza to the oven for another 3 or 4 minutes, or until the shrimp are cooked and the crust is nicely brown. Let the pizza rest for 2 or 3 minutes before cutting it into wedges.
Per serving: 340 calories, 24 gm protein, 29 gm carbohydrates, 14 gm fat, 6 gm saturated fat, 87 mg cholesterol, 461 mg sodium.
BLUEFISH CAKES (4 servings)
1 pound bluefish, cooked
1/2 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels, cooked
2 tablespoons chopped pimiento
1 1/4 cups plain bread crumbs
2 scallions, chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon prepared mustard
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon light soy sauce
A few drops hot red pepper sauce
Salt and pepper, to taste
Oil for frying
4 lemon wedges
Flake cooked bluefish into a mixing bowl. Add corn, pimiento, 1/4 cup of bread crumbs, scallions and parsley. Mix well.
In a small bowl, stir mayonnaise, mustard, lemon juice, soy sauce, hot pepper sauce, salt and pepper and pour over fish mixture. Mix well to blend. Chill for at least 1 hour.
Spread half the remaining bread crumbs on a sheet of wax paper. Form 8 bluefish cakes ( 1/3 cup each), and place each cake on the crumbs. Sprinkle the rest of the crumbs over the top of each cake and pat gently to form cakes about 1/2 inch thick. Add more bread crumbs as needed. Carefully place the cakes on a baking sheet lined with wax paper. Chill at least 15 minutes.
Pour oil into a frying pan to a depth of 1/4 inch. Heat the oil and, when hot, add a few fish cakes. Do not crowd the pan. When the underside is brown, turn carefully and brown the other side. Drain cakes on paper towel and keep warm.
Let the bluefish cakes stand for at least 5 minutes. Garnish with the lemon wedges and serve with tartar sauce.
Per cake: 279 calories, 16 gm protein, 7 gm carbohydrates, 21 gm fat, 3 gm saturated fat, 8 mg cholesterol, 222 mg sodium.
TUNA WITH GRAPEFRUIT MEDALLION (6 servings)
1 pound tuna steak
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
6 large grapefruit sections
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon snipped fresh chives
1/2 tablespoon chopped pimiento
Place the tuna on a large piece of plastic wrap. In a small bowl, mix the lime juice, 1/2 tablespoon of the soy sauce, the vinegar, and 1/2 teaspoon of the cumin. Spread this sauce over the fish and tightly seal the fish within the plastic wrap. Wrap one more time for maximum protection. Steam for at least 10 minutes or until thoroughly cooked. Remove the package from the steamer and let it stand for 2 or 3 minutes before lifting the fish from the plastic wrap. When the plastic wrap can be handled, squeeze it to retrieve all its juices. Use 2 forks to flake the tuna.
Preheat broiler. Peel away white pith and skin from grapefruit sections and place on a baking sheet with raised edges. Mix together the remaining 1 teaspoon of cumin, the remaining 1/2 tablespoon soy sauce and the sugar, and spoon this sauce over the grapefruit. Broil for 4 or 5 minutes, or until the slices are nicely browned in a few areas.
Place a broiled grapefruit slice on a dish, top with bluefish, and spoon a little of the cooking juices over it. Sprinkle with chives and spoon a small mound of pimiento in the center. Serve hot or lukewarm.
Per serving: 97 calories, 18 gm protein, 3 gm carbohydrates, .9 gm fat, .2 gm saturated fat, 34 mg cholesterol, 200 mg sodium.