Simmering the Sea
Singing the Praises of Under-loved Ocean Animals
Imagine that you are in your favorite seafood restaurant, hungrily awaiting the first course of the evening meal. The server arrives carrying a tray: “Who had the chowder with limpets? And the razor clam and fava bean salad?” What would your reaction be? Confusion? Horror? Or would you simply dive into the culinary adventure? The authors of Simmering the Sea: Diversifying Cookery to Sustain Our Fisheries are out to encourage people react to those and other dishes with delight.
The cookbook is a tangible manifestation of the mission statement of Eating with the Ecosystem, the nonprofit that uses a research-driven approach to support marine ecosystems. Here the reader will find not only delicious recipes created by Chef Rizwan Ahmed of Johnson and Wales University, but also fascinating information about the ecosystems from which the fish come, instructions in technique, and an assortment of wonderfully unconventional illustrations by Léa Tirmant-Desoyen.
“We combine the science along with the fisheries information, so we can teach consumers how they can support our local fisheries,” says Kate Masury, the program director of the organization and co-author of the cookbook.
The Eating with the Ecosystem website says that “to uphold biodiversity in the ocean, we must make diversity a cornerstone of our fishing and seafood eating processes.” That diversity is why there are no recipes for tuna steaks or lobster in this cookbook; its raison d’être is to highlight the lesser known marine life, just as tasty as the old standbys.
With any fishing boat arriving in port comes a mixture of life: tuna, cod, and lobster are often accompanied by dogfish, sea robin, and Jonah crab. The authors want to encourage readers to experiment with those less popular fish, rather than have them literally tossed overboard.
The novel choices in Simmering include some fish that (until now, hopefully) bear an undeserved reputation, said Ahmed: “A lot of the recipes [that give people pause] are very common on menus in Europe, such as periwinkles, which are quite popular in France. Yet sometimes even the name is wrong. Do you think dogfish sounds like an appetizing name? It doesn’t. But it’s delicious.”
Ahmed adds that the visual element may sometimes work against acceptance. Those who may be willing to try the filet of an unusual fish such as a sea robin (called gurnard in France, where the fish is widely consumed) may be less inclined if they see the entire fish.
Masury agrees. “We would talk to people at farmers’ markets, and they’d say, ‘Oh yeah, I’ve caught sea robin.’ Did you ever eat it? ‘No, I thought it was poison.’”
“We chose species from each part of the ecosystems, and by learning about these species, and cooking them and eating them, you’re experiencing the ecosystems that they use,” said Masury. In fact, the introduction says the book is “… a culinary travel guide to the marine ecosystems of the Northwest Atlantic and a ‘who’s who?’ of the region’s edible inhabitants.”
It is a journey that the reader will want to take; Simmering the Sea will serve as your informative and delicious guide to gustatory adventure.
by Hugh Markey
Illustration by Léa Tirmant-Desoyen