Ocean Friendly Cuisine is a two-handed coffee-table book. It is a gorgeous picture book. It is an excellent resource book on well-managed as well as endangered edible seafood.
But it isn't a very good cookbook.
Perhaps because it was written by a photographer and environmentalist but not a cook, James O. Fraioli's Ocean Friendly Cuisine: Sustainable Seafood Recipes From the World's Finest Chefs (Winter Creek Press, 2005, $35) is more pleasing to read than it is to cook out of.
Fraioli's purpose is well-meaning: The human appetite for seafood is putting enormous stresses on the oceans of the world and the creatures that live there. So he lists the many farmed species we are free to consume (mussels, oysters, striped bass and caviar, among them) and the wild-caught ones we should not (including cod, Chilean sea bass, groupers and orange roughy).
And he writes long sections on each species, from arctic char to jellyfish, discussing the species' habitat, its habits, responsible fishing and harvesting, and explaining why particular species may be in trouble. Each account is accompanied by beautiful pictures of the creatures in the wild and equally inviting pictures of them after they have been cooked.
But the recipes are a mess.
First, and this is no small thing, the ingredients are listed horizontally. It is confusing. You are never sure when one part ends and another recipe begins. And their measurements are imprecise, if not incomplete.
For example, I chose to test the Crab-Crusted White Sea Bass With Green Onion Mashed Potatoes, Fresh Asparagus and Sweet Red Pepper Sauce, offered by Phillips Food Inc.
But there was no recipe for Green Onion Mashed Potatoes. I had to search online under the ingredients until I found a recipe for Champ, an Irish potato dish. It turned out fine, but I shouldn't have had to go looking for a recipe missing from a $35 book.
The recipes are daunting, as well. While it is true that fresh seafood of the most exotic kind can be shipped to your door from anywhere in the world (and the author provides an appendix of sources), it is also true that mail order is not part of the menu planning in most homes.
And, for most home cooks, the sauces in the book require so many steps that they may find themselves longing for instructions to "dress with fresh lemon juice and sea salt and broil until flaky."
Finally, almost to prove Fraioli's point about vanishing species, my decision to make an appealing mussels recipe was thwarted by the spreading red tide in Maine, which had halted the harvesting and shipping of mussels at that moment. No mussels were available at my seafood market and I was warned not to eat any I found elsewhere.
I chose instead to prepare snow crab legs for the simple reason that they were available, right there in the seafood market case. Which, I guess, is another way to think about vanishing species.
Crab-Crusted White Sea Bass
8 ounces cream cheese
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
1 teaspoon onion juice
1 tablespoon seafood seasoning
1/2 cup sherry wine
salt and white pepper to taste
1 pound lump crab meat, picked and cleaned
6 white sea bass fillets (6 ounces each)
SWEET RED PEPPER SAUCE:
1 cup roasted red peppers
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon parsley
1/4 cup sauteed onions
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. For the crab crust: Combine the cream cheese, mayonnaise, mustard, powdered sugar, onion juice and seafood seasoning. Adjust ingredients to taste.
Place the combined ingredients in a stainless-steel bowl over a double boiler and mix until smooth and creamy. Add the sherry, and salt and pepper to taste. Blend well and remove from heat. After the mixture has cooled, fold in the lump crab meat.
Season the white sea bass with salt and pepper and spread a liberal layer of the crab mixture evenly on top of each fillet. Bake on buttered parchment paper at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes (or until crust is golden-brown and the fish is cooked through).
While fish is cooking, prepare the Sweet Red Pepper Sauce by combining the ingredients in a food processor. Puree until smooth.
To serve: Place the sea bass on top of Green Onion Mashed Potatoes with a side of asparagus in Sweet Red Pepper Sauce.
- Recipe courtesy of Phillips Food Inc., Baltimore
Per serving: 600 calories; 55 grams protein; 37 grams fat; 12 grams saturated fat; 6 grams carbohydrate; 0 grams fiber; 203 milligrams cholesterol; 1,139 milligrams sodium