How many of us can claim a light-bulb moment when our future profession reveals itself?
For chef Gary Puetz, it was a day in his youth, on the bayfront of his hometown, Newport. When he offered to help some tourists clean their catch, he was shocked when they actually paid him.
In Puetz's own words, "As a chunky little guy with a crew cut, whose nickname was 'Coconut,' I got major kudos and atta-boys for my abilities with a fillet knife. And then came the sweetest, creamiest, fluffiest icing that could be put on a cake — they put handsome amounts of money in my hand.
"I would make more on a single Saturday on the docks cleaning fish than my older brother would all month on his paper route."
From that moment on, it seems that Puetz has pretty much dedicated his life to all things of the sea. In fact, it's no wonder it took him over four decades to produce his first cookbook. After 10 years in the commercial fishing industry, he turned in his gloves for a set of knives and a culinary career in seafood. He's been a professional chef for several Northwest restaurants (including his own) and a corporate chef and spokesperson for several national seafood marketing organizations, including the behemoth Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.
Puetz is owner and president of The Seafood Steward Inc., the umbrella under which he has produced a bountiful collection of seafood-themed television programming. In his capacity as TV chef, The Seafood Steward has appeared on cooking shows across the country and cooked with the likes of Bobby Flay, Mario Batali and Sara Moulton.
The Seafood Steward also maintains a long-running relationship as executive chef for Northwest-based Pacific Seafood, the largest national distributor of seafood in the hospitality industry. And in his proverbial "spare time," Puetz has given marketing and cooking seminars and demonstrations for many of the country's largest food retailers, including Kroger, Safeway, Hy-Vee, Publix Markets, Sam's Club, Wal-Mart and Albertsons.
But back to that cookbook. For starters, it's a lot like its author: warm and user-friendly, full of juicy tidbits and fish tales.
Did I mention gorgeous?
The luscious food photography by talented Pacific Northwest photographer Rich Schafer is inspirational. Coupled with Puetz's warm writing style and delicious-sounding recipes, "Cooking With The Seafood Steward" makes a perfect kitchen companion for all who love or want to love cooking with seafood.
Besides including all the important stuff about seafood, like what to look for when shopping for fish, Puetz does a great job of telling you all the dandy ways to cook it. Plus, he's managed to inject his own style of charm into the book, demystifying the topic and luring the reader into his world. Consider the following snippet:
"Halibut are members of the flounder and sole family, and this group of fish share some 'magical' characteristics that are found only among this family of 'flat fish' ... When these fish are hatched, like all other species, they swim upright and have a single eye on either side of their head. When they grow to be 1 to 11/2-inches long, things really start to get interesting: The left eye 'migrates' over the top of their snout, thus placing both eyes on the same side of their head. (Hold on, there's more.) The little halibut now starts to swim with its left side facing the surface and its right side facing the bottom. To ensure a permanent place in the hierarchy of fish fashion, our little halibut now demonstrates his flair for color by turning his left side brown, and his right side white. In a final bid for seafood stardom, he sheds the mantle of ugly duckling and becomes one of the most popular fish ever to grace a plate."
Puetz also provides numerous teaching moments throughout the book. On any given page you'll encounter a cooking gem, such as:
- Use a microplane to grate garlic.
- Regarding scallops: If the scallops are marketed as "dry packed," it means that the product has not been dipped in a solution that includes water and sodium tripolyphosphate. In my opinion, sodium tripolyphosphate greatly reduces quality!
- Mussels and clams should be cleaned just before cooking to keep them alive. Reserve the shells to make stock.
- Regarding the use of an ice-cream scoop to make evenly-sized shrimp cakes: Scoops (in the restaurant industry) are numbered to denote size. The larger the number, the smaller the scoop. Number 10 equals 1/2 cup, and number 12 equals 1/3 cup.
- When deep-frying fish: Always use a thermometer and never allow the oil temperature to exceed 365 F. The very best pot I've found to use as a deep-fryer is an old, black, cast-iron Dutch oven. They maintain the heat better than anything else I've tried.
- Along with world-famous Tillamook Cheese, the Oregon town also is known for producing Kilchis Point oysters, some of the finest oysters in the world.
- One of the many blessings of living in the great Pacific Northwest is the incredible abundance of wonderful, available seafood. Members of the sole family rank near the top of that list. One of my favorites is Dover sole. The fillets have a mild, sweet flavor and fine texture that literally melts in your mouth.
"Cooking with the Seafood Steward" is available nationwide. For an inside peek, or if you are unable to locate it at a bookstore near you and would like to order a copy, go to the publisher's Web site, www.arnicacreative.com. On the home page, scroll down to the book image and title and click on "find out more."
Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, cookbook author and artist. Readers can contact her by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.