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Our cookbook of the week is Seafood Simple by chef Eric Ripert.
Who better to teach the fundamentals of cooking seafood than Eric Ripert? The French chef has dedicated his 35-year career to seafood, from the early days in Paris at Joël Robuchon’s three-Michelin-star Jamin to today at his equally starred fish-forward restaurant Le Bernardin in New York City.
In his eighth book, Seafood Simple (Appetite by Random House, 2023), Ripert offers an in-depth guide to cooking fish and shellfish, emphasizing technique. “The idea was to use what I call my ‘cooking wisdom’ that I have accumulated over the years to demystify how to cook fish and seafood in general. And when I say cooking, it starts when you shop for seafood,” he says.
Ripert acknowledges that seafood and simplicity don’t necessarily go hand in hand. Cooking fish and shellfish can seem intimidating; they are often delicate in taste and texture and take confidence to work with. Now, he deeply understands his ingredients, which took time to cultivate.
Born in Antibes and raised in Andorra, he was just 15 when he left home to attend culinary school in Perpignan in southern France. At 17, Ripert moved to Paris and worked at the then-three-star, now one-star, La Tour d’Argent, where the chef asked him to cook trout for the 100 staff members one day. Ripert recalls that he started to fry the fish, but the pan wasn’t hot enough, and neither was the oil. The fish began to stick.
“The chef came and realized I was not doing a good job, and the fish was burning and sticking to the pans. He threw all the pans on the floor with the fish and asked me to buy sandwiches for the staff. At 17 years old, it was a pretty intense experience, but I still remember that. So, I don’t want anyone to have their fish sticking to the pan and the fish burning,” he says, laughing. “And I don’t want anyone to buy sandwiches for their guests. I want everyone to be comfortable and successful.”
Seafood Simple is Ripert’s followup to Vegetable Simple (2021). In contrast to its predecessor, in which the recipes flowed without interruption, he divides the more than 80 recipes into nine chapters, each devoted to a core technique that brings out the best in the species he features: raw, cured and marinated, steamed, poached, fried, baked, sautéed, broiled, grilled and preserved.
As Ripert said in a 2021 interview with the National Post, “We do not cook with fish; we cook for the fish.” A red snapper is very different from cod, and cod is unlike a lobster or scallop. At Le Bernardin, “we apply techniques that enhance the qualities of those ingredients.”
The techniques Ripert teaches in Seafood Simple go beyond cooking methods. Step by step, he shows how to fillet a flatfish (such as halibut) and a roundfish (such as cod), how to skin a fish fillet and clean shrimp, how to split a lobster and remove pin bones, how to shuck an oyster and a clam and how to season.
Ripert says many people — even professional cooks — don’t season properly. So, he dedicated a page to illustrating how to season a fillet with salt, holding a clean, dry hand at enough distance to ensure even distribution.
Seafood can be fragile, but handling it is all about mindset. “You’re not carrying a potato in your hand — and nothing against the potato. I’m not being condescending. But it’s a very different product than a fillet of fish, of course. And to have that kind of mindset and be comfortable, I think you need guidance. And it’s why, in this book, we are guiding you almost all along, minute by minute or even 30 seconds by 30 seconds, in terms of showing you what to do with the pictures and the text.”
Ripert concludes the book with guidelines, including his thoughts on farm-raised versus wild-caught, sourcing and storage tips. He put himself in the shoes of someone with little experience cooking seafood, starting from the shopping and ending with the plate. He advises sourcing seafood the day you plan to cook it and developing a relationship with your fishmonger. And while freshness is a theme throughout the book, Ripert is OK with good-quality frozen seafood.
“It’s better to buy good frozen seafood than bad fresh,” says Ripert. “Or, if you buy good fresh and have to freeze it, it’s not a problem. You freeze it nicely and properly in your freezer, then defrost it at room temperature and cook your fish, and it’s not a problem at all. I am not opposed to that. And today, you can very often buy frozen fish from the boat or when the boat arrives at the harbour. They have those incredible freezers that freeze in one minute, and the quality of that fish is pretty amazing.”
I buy frozen seafood through a community-supported fishery, which means I know who caught it, where, when and by which method. Ripert believes this kind of transparency is the way forward. “To have information about where the fish is coming from and how it was caught and so on, it’s really, really the future, and we have to lobby to have more information like that.”
In choosing which kinds of fish to serve at Le Bernardin, Ripert doesn’t just focus on composition and flavour; he also weighs ethics and sustainability. He recommends researching species before buying, citing organizations such as the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Oceana and the Cousteau Society.
Ripert prefers wild-caught over farm-raised seafood — “In terms of flavour, it’s no comparison” — but highlights that many farms have sound practices and produce fresh, good-tasting, good-quality traceable seafood. Seafood supply chains span the world. They’re often convoluted and opaque; learning as much as possible about the source, whether farmed or wild, is crucial.
After three decades and counting, cooking is still Ripert’s passion, and he considers becoming a seafood expert a great reward. “It may sound weird, but I’m basically living the dream. I am the chef I wanted to be, and I have a restaurant that I really love, an amazing team, and I love them. And for me, it’s just pleasurable. I don’t have a job. It’s my life. I’m not 20 anymore. At my age today, I’m happy to share my accumulated cooking wisdom with my team and communicate through the media and my books to share the knowledge and make sure that people have good diets, have a lot of fun and enjoy cooking.”
SMOKED SALMON ‘CROQUE-MONSIEUR’
6 oz (170 g) Gruyère cheese
8 slices (1/2 inch/1.25 cm thick) Pullman bread or good-quality white sandwich bread
8 oz (227 g) smoked salmon, sliced 1/4 inch (6 mm) thick
2 tsp thinly sliced fresh chives
6 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
Using a Japanese mandoline or vegetable peeler, very thinly slice the Gruyère cheese.
Place 4 slices of the bread on the counter and cover with half the Gruyère. Divide the smoked salmon slices among the bread and sprinkle with the chives. Cover the salmon with the remaining Gruyère and top with the remaining bread slices. Using a serrated knife, cut off the crusts. (You may make the recipe up to this point 2 hours in advance. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.)
Preheat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Spread the softened butter on the outsides of the sandwiches. Add the sandwiches to the pan, in batches if needed, and cook without moving for 1 to 2 minutes. Flip them over and cook until the bread is golden and the cheese starts melting, but the salmon is not cooked, another 1 to 2 minutes.
To serve, slice the “croque-monsieur” in half diagonally, then on the diagonal again (you will have four triangles). Arrange the triangles on a plate. Serve immediately.
40 Manila clams
Fine sea salt
12 oz (340 g) linguine
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 cup dry white wine
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes, plus more, if needed
Juice of 1/2 lemon, plus more, if needed
Rinse the clams, discarding any with broken or open shells. Set aside.
Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the linguine and cook until tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Drain in a colander.
While the pasta cooks, in a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil and garlic over medium heat and cook for 1 to 2 minutes to soften. Add the clams and white wine, cover with a tight-fitting lid, and shake gently. Increase the heat to medium-high and steam until the clams open, 5 to 7 minutes.
With a slotted spoon, remove the clams to a large bowl. Add the linguine to the sauce left in the pan and toss to coat. Add the parsley, pepper flakes and lemon juice and toss again until the pasta is completely coated. Return the clams to the pan, taste, and adjust with sea salt, pepper flakes or lemon juice if necessary.
Divide among four warm bowls, drizzle with olive oil, and serve.
HERB-CRUSTED YELLOWFIN TUNA
5 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 tbsp good-quality soy sauce
1 tbsp minced fresh ginger
4 yellowfin tuna steaks (7 oz/198 g each), 1 inch (2.5 cm) thick, at room temperature
Fine sea salt and freshly ground white pepper
1/4 cup herbes de Provence
2 cups mesclun
Canola oil for grilling
Outdoor grill or stovetop grill pan
Preheat an outdoor grill or stovetop grill pan to high heat.
In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, soy sauce and ginger. Set the dressing aside.
Season the tuna with sea salt and white pepper, then coat both sides with herbes de Provence, pressing firmly so that the herbs adhere. Lightly drizzle olive oil over the tuna.
Lightly season the mesclun with sea salt and white pepper, then toss it in a bowl with a few tablespoons of the dressing.
When the grill/pan is hot, use a pastry brush to apply a small amount of canola oil to the grate/pan. Place the steaks on the hot grill/pan and cook for 1 minute. Gently turn the fish over and cook for 1 minute more. A metal skewer inserted into the thickest part of the fish for 5 seconds should feel warm when touched to your wrist. Remove to a cutting board.
Using a very sharp knife, cut the tuna into 1/2-inch (1.25-cm) -thick slices. Evenly divide and fan the slices on four plates, then pile the salad next to the tuna. Spoon a little more dressing around the tuna and serve immediately.
Recipes and images excerpted from Seafood Simple by Eric Ripert. Copyright ©2023 by Eric Ripert. Photographs by Nigel Parry. Published by Appetite by Random House®, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.
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