Pros: Good recipes; handy information; gorgeous photos; delicious flavors; surprisingly easy recipes
Cons: Recipes could be a little better; small omissions
Rating: 4 out of 5
First published 2/14/2005
Review copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster
We moved to the coast of Maryland this summer, and it’s high time we took advantage of the wide range of seafood offerings here. We must have a good half-dozen seafood markets within a mile or two of our home; our favorite so far also sells wonderful fried seafood. But sometimes you want something a little healthier or fancier or you want to do it yourself. My husband and I love to cook, and we can’t think of a better way to celebrate many special occasions. He’s more of a seafood (particularly shellfish) fiend than I am, but I do enjoy good seafood.
Aesthetics: The first thing I tend to notice about a cookbook from the Williams-Sonoma Collection is the aesthetics. These are gorgeous cookbooks. The layout is nice, with cook’s notes along one side of a recipe, the recipe in short paragraphs, the ingredients along the other side of the recipe, and a beautiful, full-color photograph of the dish in question. By the time you’re done picking out your recipes you’ll be hungry just from looking at the photos!
The results of these recipes have ranged from good to great. They haven’t been consistently outstanding, but neither have any of them failed to please. What most surprised me is that quite a few of them tasted best the second day. I expect that from some things like soups, but I don’t expect it from seafood–particularly things like a shrimp and asparagus stir-fry. Sure, the salmon corn chowder was soup, but it was a fish soup, and so I expected it to taste best fresh–but it was definitely best the second day.
The scallops with lemon beurre blanc were delicious, and the garlic crab with spaghettini was absolutely wonderful with a surprisingly subtle flavor to it. The recipes do a good job of complementing the flavor of the seafood. They don’t overwhelm the natural flavor of it, but neither do they allow its natural flavor to be overwhelming. Most of them mix butter and olive oil, which allows you to retain the full flavor of butter while cutting down some of the cholesterol and saturated fat; I think this is a nice compromise to make. A few of the recipes call for unusual ingredients (such as white truffle oil or miso), but not many.
By and large the recipe directions are good. I’ve noticed no errors or mistakes, which is always pleasing! There are a few small issues, however. For example, the garlic crab with spaghettini mentions “crab butter” but doesn’t point you to the section or page where the book explains what that is. Also, while it might look cool to have crab legs in the shell in a plate of pasta, it’s unwieldy, and cracking crab legs that have been sauteed in olive oil and butter is just plain messy. While the recipe does say that you can make the dish with purchased cooked crab, it does not say how much you’d actually need in order to substitute for the crab legs. These are small things, but it’s always nice to see that a cookbook author has thought of the little conveniences. In the long run it does affect the usability of a cookbook.
Despite the fact that many of these recipes look fairly elegant and fancy, they’re surprisingly easy and quick. We made the scallops in less than a half-hour with no problem. Same with the garlic crab and the stir-fry, and the soup didn’t take much longer (and mostly that was due to some chopping and boiling of potatoes). I don’t tend to expect recipes from this sort of cookbook to be so simple.
The recipes are divided into:
The Classics (crab cakes with lemon aioli, lobster Thermidor, seafood paella, and four others)
Quick Dinners (garlic shrimp, soft-shell crab sandwiches, clams with angel hair pasta, cajun-spiced catfish on wilted greens, and four more)
Seafood in the Oven (roast lobster with tarragon butter, baked salmon with watercress sauce, broiled lingcod with miso glaze, and three more)
Summer Grilling (grilled ahi tuna with mango salsa, fish tacos with salsa cruda and guacamole, mixed grill with ancholade, and five others)
Soups and Stews (seafood bisque, oyster stew, and three more)
Special Occasions (clams oreganata, crab and shrimp salad with avocado and oranges, lobster risotto with white truffle oil, and four more)
All in all, while this cookbook isn’t perfect, it’s very good. It includes a decent range of delicious, surprisingly easy recipes. It also has some information on fish and shellfish in general, such as cooking and cleaning lobsters. It occasionally misses opportunities to be more thorough, but not in a way that truly detracts from your ability to create delicious food.