My kitchen library encompasses a variety of subjects. Not all are cookbooks. Food sourcing and preparation are on even footing. Fish, whether fresh or saltwater, take on more importance when you have experienced the thrill of the catch, lessons I learned during my baby days. Mother, an accomplished self-taught Southern cook, insisted on fresh everything. Fish was on the table at least once each week. Often, the bass, bream, perch, trout or catfish was bounty from my success at nearby waters.
There was one caveat: Whatever was brought home must be cleaned. Mom would not do it. Fair enough. So, with a little teaching, I learned how to take a whole fish, scale and clean it, and put it on ice. Later on, I mastered the skills of the filet knife.
Many cookbooks spend few words on preparation of fish and eschew the overriding importance of freshness. Chef, angler Hank Shaw accomplishes everything that took me decades to learn in his masterpiece, Hook, Line, and Supper, perhaps the most comprehensive guide in years to preparing and cooking fish and seafood. Shaw runs the James Beard Award-winning website Hunter Angler Gardener Cook and is a nationally known expert in wild foods including fish and seafood. Hook, Line, and Supper is Shaw’s fifth cookbook and its recipes, tips and techniques should become an indispensable resource for cooks and anglers seeking ways to prepare fish and seafood.
Shaw repeats my mother’s sacred command I call the smell test: Fresh fish doesn’t have a foul oder. When approaching the seafood department of a store, if you detect some stink in the air, flee. And don’t buy pre-packaged unfrozen seafood. When selecting seafood from a counter display, ask the employee to let you smell it before wrapping and labeling.
Shaw details fish substitution. Chefs understand interchangeability. Must a recipe
absolutely have Snapper? Black sea bass or perch will often work well. Delicate mountain trout takes to breading and pan frying very well, something featured in Hemingway’s story Up in Michigan. Shaw explores the wide world of flavor combinations and pairings that work with an array of fish and seafood to encourage cooks to be a little freestyle in the kitchen.
Hook, Line, and Supper is an everyday guide for buying, cleaning and cooking fish and seafood from all over North America. I have been using the simple but exciting recipes, often outfoxing my fish monger by avoiding high-priced varieties and substituting along
the lines Shaw advises. I’ve never been disappointed and my dinner guests regularly roared approval.
There are more than 120 recipes. The cookbook is written in plain English, and is highly readable with stunning photographs. It will be under the Christmas trees of friends who share a love for wild waters and the fruits we harvest from them.
Hook, Line, and Supper features photography by both Shaw and Holly A. Heyser, shot all over North America, from Alaska to Florida, Manitoba and the Canadian Rockies to the Texas and Louisiana coast, to lakes and rivers in the Heartland, San Francisco Bay, the Jersey shore and the rocky coastlines of New England. The 336-page, hardcover cookbook is published by H&H Books.
Lagniappe: Two Hank Shaw Recipes
This is arguably the most famous Mexican fish dish, with the possible exception of fish tacos. Veracruz, on the Gulf of Mexico, is the state where the food is most like that of Spain: olives, capers, olive oil, paprika, roasted red sweet peppers, and parsley all play far more important roles in this part of Mexico than elsewhere in the country.
The effect is very Spanish, and very good. Huachinango, or red snapper, is the common fish used, but literally any fish you can fit in a shallow pot will do; I used Pacific rockfish. Go for a bass-like fish first, so black seabass, snappers, perch, largemouth, spotted or smallmouth bass, and Pacific rockfish are all good options.
Serve your snapper (or whatever) with short- or medium-grain rice, ideally Spanish bomba. I like to serve this by lifting off portions of meat from the bones and setting it on the rice, spooning around some sauce.
Servings: 4 to 6
2 whole bass-like fish (see above), scaled and gutted, gills removed
¼ cup olive oil
1 white onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 pounds tomatoes
¼ cup white wine
¾ cup fish, seafood or chicken stock
12 to 15 green olives, sliced
¼ cup capers
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons dried oregano, Mexican if possible
4 jalapeños, pickled or fresh, cut into strips
A pinch of cinnamon
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Cut the limes in half and rub them all over the fish, squeezing out juice as you go. Salt the fish well inside and out and set them in the fridge for 2 hours.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Heat the olive oil in a large pan and sauté the onion until soft. Stir in the garlic and cook for another minute. Turn the heat to low.
Puree the tomatoes with the wine and stock, then pour it into the pan with the onions and garlic. Turn the heat back to medium-high. The sauce will look weird at first, a sickly pink, but it will return to normal as it cooks. Add all the remaining ingredients except the fish and parsley, stir well and simmer gently for 15 to 20 minutes.
In an ovenproof casserole, lay down some sauce. Set the fish on top, then cover with the remaining sauce. Set in the oven uncovered and bake for 40 minutes, or until the meat flakes easily away from the bones.
To serve, lift portions of the fish off the bones and serve over rice with the sauce. Garnish with parsley.
Grilled Lobster Tails
Grilling lobster tails is a thing in Florida and Southern California, where the spiny lobster lives, and it is indeed a fun way to cook them in hot weather. It’s a bit alien to me, given that I grew up on Maine lobsters eaten, more or less, in only one way: steamed or boiled, with melted butter. But the grill adds that element of smoke, and you can baste the lobster with that melted butter if you want. Or you can go with any number of other flavors, like olive oil, or sesame oil, or salsa, or ponzu sauce, or chimichurri or . . . you get the point.
This is more of a method than a recipe. There are a lot of ways to prep a lobster tail for grilling, but the easiest way I’ve found is to use shears to cut the shell on the top of the tail back to the fins. By doing this, you will likely cut the tail meat too, and that’s OK, because you’re going to open the tail like a book to grill it. You want the bottom of the shell intact; doing this, as opposed to cutting the tails in half completely, allows the shell to protect the meat somewhat. I will also use my fingers to work the raw meat away from the shell a little, which will make it easier to remove later.
Get your grill hot. This is a hot and fast cook, not slow and low. Clean the grates.
Paint the lobster meat with oil or melted butter and set, meat-side down, on the grates. Press the tail down with your tongs or a spatula for about 30 seconds. Grill the meat side for about 4 or 5 minutes, then turn. Paint the meat with more melted butter or oil.
Grill the shell side for another 5 or 6 minutes, then remove. Add more seasonings of your choice; I go with an herb butter, but a single chipotle from a can of chipotles in adobo, puréed with melted butter or olive oil, is another great option.