These days when you stand in front of a fish counter and ponder all the issues surrounding sustainable fishing and the health of our oceans, you might become dizzy while trying to decide what to have for dinner. Thankfully, the book For Cod and Country: Simple, Delicious, Sustainable Cooking by National Geographic Fellow and Washington, D.C. chef Barton Seaver makes it much easier not only to choose which fish to bring home but also to turn it into a great meal. So, yes, there are a lot of problems with the current state of the depletion of some fish species, and not all fisheries are operating as sustainably as they should be just yet, but the book is quick to point out that the best way to encourage well-managed fishing and the restoration of marine ecosystems is by choosing well and supporting those in the business who are doing things right.
For instance, one of the ways to simplify choosing seafood is to look for the Marine Stewardship Council label. The MSC is an organization that certifies sustainable wild capture fisheries, so when their label appears on fish at market, it signifies it's from a trusted fishery. For more information about the different methods of catching fish and explanations of which ones are more sustainable than others, the book offers a quick guide. By knowing more about all the different fishing methods from pole-caught to dredging, shoppers will know what questions to ask at the fish counter.
When you know how the seafood is caught and if it's from a certified fishery, you still need to choose a type. Seaver points out that interestingly, we've only recently developed such big appetites for big fish. Regarding larger species, Seaver writes: "eating tuna is like cutting down a redwood tree to build a campfire… Tuna and other apex predators such as sharks and swordfish are, in effect, the trees of the ocean." Therefore, no recipes for bluefin or yellowfin tuna are included in the book. But, you will find enthusiastic suggestions for all the sustainable options like Roasted Trout with Lime-Dill Butter and Roasted Potatoes, well-managed, farmed seafood like Oyster Risotto with Butternut Squash, Crème Fraiche, and Fresh Herbs, all kinds of wild salmon like Smoked Salmon Panzanella with Feta, Dill, and Grapes, and arctic char, catfish, crab, and more.
Over the years, working as a chef, Seaver has moved toward simpler food, with fewer ingredients, focusing on what's best at the current time of year. With that freshness in mind, the book is organized by season. The hope is that by considering the seasonality of seafood, we will also think more about where it comes from and its life cycle. Likewise, we can pair seasonal seafood with vegetables available at the same time. For the different seasons, there are side dishes and appetizers like Pan-fried Potatoes with Orange-Sherry Aioli, Grilled Okra with Charred Onion Dip, Warm Cherry Tomato and Dill Salad, and Roasted Spaghetti Squash, Caper Yogurt, and Smoky Balsamic Reduction.
Most shellfish like clams, mussels, and oysters are farmed sustainably and are always available. They also happen to be good for the environments in which they grow. And, since my basil plants are still thriving, my first choice of a dish to try from this book was Steamed Clams and Basil Pesto. For his version of Basil Pesto, Seaver uses walnuts rather than pine nuts, and for pairing it with seafood, he prefers to omit the cheese. He also opts for mostly neutral-flavored oil like canola with just a little extra-virgin olive oil in the pesto. With the hot, opened clams on a serving platter, they were then covered with the aromatic basil pesto sauce. Served with bread for savoring every bit of the sauce, this fresh-flavored dish was a hit.
Read more on Lisa's adventures with For Cod and Country on her blog Lisa is Cooking .
Steamed Clams and Basil Pesto
Recipe from For Cod and Country by Barton Seaver (Sterling Epicure, 2011)Steamed shellfish work with so many different flavors. Here I top clams with a bright basil pesto. It is a super-easy preparation and makes an elegant and easy weeknight meal.
- 3 dozen littleneck clams, rinsed thoroughly (discard any that won’t close)
- 1 cup white wine
- 1/2 cup Basil Pesto
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 crusty baguette, sliced and toasted
Place the clams and wine in a covered pot over high heat. As the broth begins to boil, gently stir the clams to ensure that they cook evenly.
Once all the shells are open (discard any that haven’t opened after 5 minutes), remove the clams from the pot and place them in serving bowls, leaving as much of the broth in the pot as possible. Carefully pour the broth into a bowl, leaving any sand that has collected in the bottom of the pot. Add the pesto and butter to the clam broth and stir to combine. Pour over the clams and serve with toasted bread.
Serves 4 as an appetizer or light entrée
Disclosure: Review copies of books discussed in this post may have been provided to Project Foodie by publicists and/or publishers.