Sisters Kiyo and Tomi Marsh and friend Laura Cooper, are three extremely attractive women who happen to make their living in commercial fishing in Alaska. Think about it...three chicks doing men's work in a man's world in one of the roughest environments imaginable. I wanna meet these ladies for a cocktail so they can regale me with stories of their adventurous life at sea. In the meantime, I have THE FISHES & DISHES COOKBOOK: Seafood Recipes and Salty Stories from Alaska's Commercial Fisherwomen (Epicenter Press; $19.95; ISBN: 978-1-935347-07-1) for stories and some first-rate seafood recipes.
"Our book provides a window into working on the water in Alaska, a world that few get to experience directly," they write in the Introduction to THE FISHES & DISHES COOKBOOK. "Collectively, we've worked as captain and crew, engineer, deckhand and cook. Tomi was looking for a way to make money for college and "talked her way into a cook's position aboard the Scotch Cap, a fish processing boat." But she had to earn respect and that meant not only cooking, but cleaning, laundry plus process fish. She got the job, but had to ask a seat mate on the plane to Alaska how to make coffee. Sister Kiyo was also trying to pay for school and ended up joining Tomi when she bought, the F/V Savage, a 78 foot lobster boat. As they fished throughout the seasons for salmon, king crab, opilio crab (often called snow crab), turbot, black cod, shrimp, and herring, they found themselves "frequently feeding crew, friends, and fellow fishermen." Even in their off-time, they would bake up cookies for their fisherman friends. In bad weather boats "would often hide in a sheltered bay with a bevy of boats rafted up to us. Then everyone would gather in the galley of the Savage, for steaming cups of coffee, food, and good conversation." They eventually met Laura Cooper, who among other things, worked for the World Wildlife Fund. Laura would become "a partner in shaping this book, and her artful collages grace its pages."
Cooking fish makes people nervous. Excellent fish cookbooks come and go and there are great books on the subject by Mark Bittman, James Beard, Rick Moonan and others. FISHES & DISHES, however, immerses the reader and cook into this rough and tumble world. The "dishes" provide lots of photographs which show the staggering beauty as well as the tough living conditions of those who fish the waters of this cold and remote area of the Pacific Northwest. Having the absolute freshest seafood available to them anytime they needed it, helped shape their cooking, and THE FISHES & DISHES COOKBOOK, features not only delightful recipes, but lots of fishing lore, tall tales and memories, and interesting information about the world of fishing such as:
- Alaskan Commercial Fishing Methods: Learn various methods used for catching fish, i.e., gill netting, purse seining, trawling and trolling
- Memorable stories about the author's fishing friends
- Sustainability in the fishing industry
- Cooking in the Ditch--or how to get a meal on the table in rolling waves
- The story of Kitty, a black cat who would become the Savage ship mascot for eighteen years
- Methods to preserve the catch
- Goddesses in Grundens: Fishing Fashion for the Ladies (not your idea of haute couture)
Spicy Crab and Artichoke Melt Sandwiches
The stories will charm the reader, and the evocative photographs just may lure you to Alaska. But the recipes are the real reason to own THE FISHES & DISHES COOKBOOK, and this is an excellent basic seafood book that won't intimidate those who already are scared of cooking seafood at home. I chose the recipe for Spicy Crab and Artichoke Melt Sandwiches because it is easy and reminded me of the crab and cheddar toasts that I found in oyster bars in San Francisco in my youth. But these sandwiches are very distinctive on their own. They are generously loaded with fresh crabmeat and chopped artichoke hearts, which are combined with mayonnaise, finely chopped garlic, Parmesan cheese, green onion, and chopped fresh Italian parsley. The spice comes from fresh minced jalapeño peppers. All this is topped with shredded cheddar cheese and run under the broiler. What a great combination of flavors. Paired with a green salad, a good beer or glass of wine, this is a festive Friday night meal at home with friends.
Along with a Salmon Primer, you'll find a number of fine salmon recipes: Cider-Brined King Salmon and Salmon Dumplings with Coconut Curry Sauce. Who wouldn't want to serve King Crab Dip at their next gathering? Crab Food Yung with Gravy could be your next comfort food favorite. I've got to find smoked black cod for a heavenly looking soup called Smoked Black Cod Chowder. Sea Scallops with Smoked Paprika and Citrus combines some of my favorite ingredients.
FISHES & DISHES concludes with a fine selection of cocktails based on local bars and taverns in Alaskan fishing villages with a smart feature on pairing wine and seafood. As much a delightful armchair read as it is a fine cookbook, FISHES & DISHES is a lively book about three amazing women and the challenging work they're passionately involved in. It is also a valentine to the rugged grandeur and mesmerizing beauty of Alaska.
Spicy Crab and Artichoke Melt Sandwiches
Piled high with crabmeat, these open-faced sandwiches pack just the right amount of heat. Add more jalapeño if you really want to feel the fire. Jalapeños with white striations in their skin will generally be hotter than those without.
Makes 4 servings
11/2 cups shelled crabmeat, shredded
1 cup artichoke hearts, coarsely chopped
1 to 2 tablespoons minced fresh jalapeño
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 green onion, sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 large or 8 small slices of French bread, cut 3/4 inch thick
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Chopped fresh Italian parsley
Preheat the broiler and set the rack on the middle level.
In a medium bowl, blend together the crabmeat, artichoke hearts, jalapeño, garlic, mayonnaise, Parmesan cheese, green onion, and salt and pepper.
Toast the French bread slices under the broiler on one side. Remove the toasted bread slices from the broiler, turn them over, and spread each with the crab-artichoke mixture. Top with the cheddar cheese. Place the open-faced sandwiches under the broiler and cook until the topping is hot and bubbly, about 2 to 3 minutes. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley, and serve hot.