Saturday, November 02, 2013

Cookbooks: Fish: 54 Seafood Feasts by Cree LeFavour

Every successful cookbook has something that sets it apart. Sometimes it's the unique world view or experience set of the author. (Think Anthony Bourdain.) Sometimes it’s the chef’s celebrity status. (Martha would work here as well as any other. After all, we only need to drop that one name.) But for some -- and this is a surprisingly small group -- it is nothing beyond the food. Food. Glorious food.

Cree LaFavour is like that. If you weren’t sure, you can see it repeatedly demonstrated in Fish: 54 Seafood Feasts (Chronicle Books). The recipes are sharp, modern and tempting. Despite this, they are also, for the most part, surprisingly simple: the methods are fast and fussless. The ingredients lists are short and sweet. The resulting book is redolent of all of these things and the very essence of food as it should be now: fresh, simple, delicious and -- where possible -- local.

To this end, LeFavour spends a fair amount of time at the beginning of our journey with her explaining which fish and shellfish can be “eaten in good conscience” and why. It’s clear that the author is deeply concerned with sustainable seafood and her reasoning and solutions are a valuable addition to Fish.
There’s no getting around it: these days you really need to know where your fish came from because this more than anything else is likely to determine if it’s been conscientiously farmed or fished.
LeFavour is no-nonsense in this regard and she demands sustainable seafood, and no excuses. There are other sections on buying and storing and cooking seafood, but they are less revolutionary. It’s not that it’s all been said before, but it’s kind of all been said before. But sustainability in a cookbook? That’s a newer idea and I found it both interesting and refreshing to read about it in this context.

But, again, it is in the actual cookbook section of Fish that LeFavour really shines. A few favorites: the Sweet and Sour Slaw is ridiculously simple and delicious and I suspect it will become one of my standards. Four easy ingredients. One simple method. One wonderful and healthful slaw. Amazing.

On the other end of the complicated scale, I loved Los Gatos Ceviche. It’s an entire meal: Lime-Tortilla Soup, Guacamole and handmade chips. It is not difficult, but it is unbeatable. The Yellowfin Tuna Sliders are really different and, yet again, not difficult to pull off beautifully. And when it comes to dishes with a big “wow” factor suitable for entertaining and that won’t challenge you when hosting a dinner party and trying to focus on your guests, try the Mussels with Cream, Saffron, and Angel Hair served with Garlic Toast and Grapefruit-Fennel Salad. The presentation is gorgeous and the flavors work so well together, they’re unforgettable.

All in all, Fish is one of the best cookbooks on the topic I’ve seen. Great recipes, most of which even a real novice could pull off successfully and, at the core of it all, an eye to sustainability. This is one of the really good ones. ◊

Aaron Blanton is a contributing editor to January Magazine. He recently completed a book based on his experiences as an American living abroad.

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