Stories of fishing people of coastal villages and bays around the United States give colorful animation to the fine seafood recipe collection in The Fish Lovers' Cookbook by Sheryl and Mel London (Rodale Press, $16.95).
They have explored the fishing haunts of fishing people by traveling and talking and testing fish dishes countrywide. Recipes using only natural ingredients have been collected by swapping stories with fishermen, fish farmers and cooks, visiting fish markets, fish fries, and festivals.
There's an interview with an old lobster fisherman from Martha's Vineyard and a nice description of "crabbing" in Wingate, Maryland.
There are brief stories about a catfish festival in Mississippi, the Blessing of the Fleet at Provincetown on Cape Cod and New York City's fabulous Fulton Market.
No salt is used in the recipes and directions for cooking because when fish is really fresh, the natural flavor of the sea is briny enough, they explain.
Citrus juices, vinegar, fresh and dried herbs, fruit, and vegetables are used often as seasoning. Whole grain flour is used in a special moist batter that results in a crispy outside with moist fish beneath.
"I'll never use white flour again," Mel said, describing the basic batter made with whole grain flour. Variations include Lemon Batter, Celery and Garlic Batter and Herbed Batter.
The book is especially easy to read and to understand, with especially clear how-to sketches and well defined directions.
The authors line up the different techniques of cooking fish in a chapter called Seven Basic Cooking Methods. It includes directions on how to pan fry or saute, deep fry, oven fry, poach, steam, broil and bake.
There are excellent charts and lists for things you've always wanted to know and probably couldn't find. A list of fish and their foreign names and a list of correct names of the fish to go in bouillabaisse with American equivalents or substitutes.
There are directions for how much stuffing to make for fillets, and special chapters on the cod family, catfish, flatfish, herring, and other more familiar best sellers.
Mel tells how to identify fresh fish and says the fish you buy at the market is sometimes "fresher" than the fish just hand-caught in a lake or ocean. He also tells the sport fisherman how to keep the catch as fresh as possible.
There is valuable information about some of the lesser known fish. Classic recipes for some of these include Fried Eel with Onion Sauce, Monkfish and Cucumber Mousse Molds and Mako Remoulade. They are in a chapter called "How Can Anything So Ugly Taste That Good?" There are also many recipes for old favorite kinds of fish.
Sauces and stuffings are included in a most helpful chapter with a hundred different sauces and a dozen or more stuffings that can be used interchangeably making this an innovative and complete working book of fish cookery.
Sheryl and Mel London are not new to the cookbook field. Sheryl's cookbooks Eggplant and Squash, A Versatile Feast and Making The Most of Your Freezer were inspired by super harvests in the London's own garden on Fire Island.
Mel London, an award-winning documentary filmmaker is the author of Getting Into Film and of a successful cookbook about one of his hobbies, Bread Winners.
Here is one of the more elegant recipes from the book that would be perfect for a special occasion. Broiled Spanish Shrimp With Saffron 30 large shrimp, about 2 pounds, peeled and deveined, but with tails left on 1 teaspoon crushed saffron strands 1 large shallot, chopped, or 2 green onions, white part only, chopped 2 small cloves garlic, finely minced 1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced or 1/4 teaspoon dried 3 tablespoons olive oil Juice of 2 lemons 1/2 cup butter 1 tablespoon fresh parsley, finely chopped
Dry shrimp well on paper towels. Prepare a marinade with saffron, shallot, garlic, thyme, olive oil, and lemon juice. Add shrimp and toss. Refrigerate and marinate for 1 1/2 hours, turning shrimp once or twice.
Melt butter in small saucepan and set aside. Lift out shrimp from marinade. Do not dry. Place on rack of a broiling pan. Pour marinade into melted butter and heat just to boiling point and reserve as a sauce.
Broil shrimp, turning once. Allow 2 to 3 minutes for each side, until shrimp turn pink and opaque. Arrange on a warm platter and sprinkle with parsley. Serve hot butter-marinade sauce separately in a sauce boat to spoon over shrimp at the table. Serves 6. Broiled Swordfish Steaks With Orange Juice and Oregano 6 swordfish steaks, about 2 1/2 to 3 pounds, cut about 1 inch thick 3/4 cup orange juice Rind of 1/2 orange, finely grated 1/4 cup fresh parsley, finely minced 1/4 cup tomato sauce Juice of 1 lemon 1 tablespoon fresh oregano, finely minced or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried 1 teaspoon black pepper 2 large cloves garlic, finely minced 2 tablespoons olive oil
Place a plastic bag in a bowl and put steaks into bag. Mix all other ingredients together and pour into bag over fish. Secure bag and marinate contents for 2 hours in refrigerator, turning bag occasionally.
Oil broiling pan and lift steaks from marinade and place on pan. Broil 2 inches from source of heat for about 4 minutes basting occasionally with sauce. Turn with 2 wide spatulas and broil on other side about 5 to 6 minutes more, or until fish flakes easily with skewer. Baste to keep fish moist.