Certain flavors are reserved for summer.

Fresh-sliced tomatoes, right off the vine.

A peach so perfectly ripe that a goatee of juice dribbles off your chin.

And of course, the sweet, buttery kernels of steamed corn on the cob.

Courtesy of Globe Pequot

It was an abundance of corn, cooked up for a recent lobster feed, that brought me to a terrific recipe for a summer salad I found in “The New England Catch – A Seafood Cookbook.” I confess, despite having lived on the Maine coast for 32 years, I haven’t ventured too far afield in my preparation of fish and seafood meals.

Your basic oven-baked cod or haddock, a decent fish chowder, steamers (when I remember to renew my resident shellfish license and feel up to battling the invasive green crabs), steamed lobsters for special occasions and spicy baked stuffed quahogs pretty much sum up my repertoire.

So I was drawn to the cookbook by Martha Watson Murphy and its appealing cover of oyster crackers and parsley floating in a bowl of chowder. In her introduction, Murphy speaks of many recipes she concocted just to use the fish and seafood that came home every night with her husband, a commercial fisherman.

“The recipes in this book are meant to encourage you to try a variety of seafood in a variety of ways,” she writes. “The old saying ‘There is nothing new under the sun’ is true, especially when it comes to recipes, but I hope you’ll find a collection here that is new to you, and one you’ll turn to again and again.”

I, too, have a husband who has tried his hand at commercial fishing. A high school social studies teacher for 10 months out of the year, my husband has worked as a sternman on a local lobster boat the past two summers. The upside: lots of lobster – typically tossed to my husband by his appreciative captain as he drops him off after 13 hours on the boat. The downside: laundry that has to be washed with Lestoil because it is the only thing that will remove the stink of bait.

Small price to pay, right?

I like Murphy’s writing style. She is direct and pragmatic, with lots of advice offered with a dash of fishing history or culture. (Did you know commercial fishermen eschew serving beef stew aboard because there’s a superstition that it brings on a gale? Or that 13-pot trawls are bad luck?)

Murphy organizes the cookbook as you would a multicourse meal, beginning with starters, segueing to chowders and soups (with a wave to pizzas), then to salads, pasta, main courses, companion vegetables and desserts. Some recipes sound unusual, but then you imagine the flavors and start to salivate – oyster and onion pizza anyone?

Others offer new takes on old standards. I have neighbors who jig for mackerel. Next time they offer me a few fish, I intend to try the Broiled Mackerel With Mustard Butter recipe.

The cookbook has a separate section on breads, pie crusts, sauces and other miscellany just for fun, and a helpful appendix with instructions on how to fillet a fish; assessing the nutritional value of fish and seafood; and guidelines on how to buy the best catch you can.

Murphy uses declarative titles – nothing funny or clever. Linguiça, Littleneck Clam and Mussel Soup; Squid Salad; Pan-Fried Flounder With Lemon and Wine Sauce; Soy and Ginger Grilled Tuna Steaks. And there are appealing photos with the recipes, so you can see what your finished dish should look like. The photos encouraged me to try my hand at something more exotic than my typical fare.

The Shrimp, Corn and Black Bean Salad is a good example. Great colors from the beans and vegetables form the foundation of the dish, topped with breaded and fried shrimp and accented with dollops of herbed cilantro mayonnaise. Yum.

That was the pronouncement on the dish, too. It was easy to make and the flavors blended beautifully. The beans made it filling and the shrimp made it special.

I opted not to use cumin in the cilantro dressing, and I was out of buttermilk, so I just added a splash of vinegar to the whole milk I had on hand to make a decent substitute. Otherwise, I followed the recipe exactly as worded.

Shrimp, Corn and Black Bean Salad

Recipe from “The New England Catch” by Martha Watson Murphy.

Serves 6

For the vegetable salad:

2-1/2 cups fresh corn kernels

2 cups cooked black beans, drained and completely cooled (rinse if canned)

1/4 cup chopped scallion

1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper

1/2 cup loosely packed, chopped fresh cilantro

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

For the shrimp:

24 jumbo shrimp

1/4 cup buttermilk

1 egg, beaten

1 cup yellow cornmeal

pinch of salt and pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

Dressing:

1/2 cup cilantro dressing (recipe below)

1 head romaine lettuce

To make the salad: Combine the corn, beans, scallions, red pepper, cilantro, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Toss well, cover and refrigerate.

To prepare the shrimp: Shell and devein the shrimp, leaving the tails intact. Place the buttermilk in a small bowl; place the egg in a second bowl; and place the cornmeal with the salt and pepper in a third bowl.

In a large cast-iron skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of oil and 1 tablespoon of butter over medium heat.

Dip each shrimp in buttermilk, then cornmeal, then egg, and then cornmeal again. Press the shrimp into the cornmeal each time so that a good layer adheres to it. Place 12 of the shrimp in the hot pan, being careful not to crowd them, and cook until golden on each side, about 1-2 minutes per side. Turn with tongs only once during the cooking process. As the shrimp are cooked, remove them to a plate lined with brown paper or paper towel. Repeat this process with the remaining oil and butter for the last 12 shrimp.

To assemble the salad: Pour the cilantro dressing over the corn and bean mixture and toss, thoroughly coating them. Place an equal portion of salad greens on each dinner plate. Top with a mound of the corn and black bean mixture. Arrange four shrimp over the top. Serve immediately.

Herbed mayonnaise (basis for cilantro dressing):

Makes 2 cups.

4 garlic cloves, peeled

1 egg, plus 2 egg yolks

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/4 cups good quality extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup packed fresh herbs: cilantro, basil, dill, parsley or combination of your choice

1/4 teaspoon cumin (optional)

Place the garlic in a blender and process. Add the egg, egg yolks, lemon juice and salt, and blend well. Slowly pour in the olive oil in a thin stream while the blender is running (do this through the hole in the lid). Continue blending until the mixture is thick. Add the herbs and cumin (if using), and process thoroughly. Pour into a clean glass jar, cover tightly and refrigerate for at least two hours.

Take 1 cup of prepared mayonnaise mixture (made with some cilantro), and whisk in 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice and 1 tablespoon of buttermilk to make cilantro dressing.

 


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