My husband and I like to go to the beach in the off-season; we don’t mind bundling up and definitely prefer missing the crowds. We were incredibly lucky to choose two sunny, fairly mild days in March to visit Long Beach, WA and haven’t stopped smiling yet. What a fun little trip! Our hotel, Adrift Hotel & Spa, was about 500 ft. from the beach, allowed our dog to stay in the room with us, offered bikes to use while we were there, and presented us with cupcakes, beer and a dining credit at Pickled Fish, the attached restaurant, upon check-in. Not half bad, right? We spent our time on the coast walking, biking and driving on the beach (which was bizarre), checking out the local bakery and cranberry bogs (off-season, but still very cool) and driving to the nearby towns of Oysterville and Nahcotta to dream about real estate. The only downside of the trip, which was more of a head-scratcher than a negative, really, was that we had trouble finding a spot to eat oysters while there– we saw piles of shells everywhere, and pre-packaged shooters in a few places, but not the bountiful raw bars we both expected. There were plenty of dining options (including the pleasant surprise of a delicious corned beef dinner at an Australian pub), so we decided to stop hunting for shellfish to eat in town, take the coastal route home and pick up some on the road. We ended up buying steamer clams straight off the dock at Goose Point in Willapa Bay, an experience in itself. Our plan to buy shellfish on the go was genius, since our resulting dinner on Tuesday night fit perfectly into this month’s Cook the Books theme: Good Fish by Becky Selengut.
I have been waiting to cook from this book since January, excited about the focus on local fish and seafood and eager to try out some new recipes for mussels, cod, salmon, scallops and other favorites. As usual, my enthusiasm got a little ahead of reality and I didn’t (yet) make all the recipes I hoped to, but this is certainly a cookbook that belongs in my home library. With recipes for clams, shrimp, squid, trout, sardines and more, I love Selengut’s narrative and appreciate the way she focuses on each ingredient (fish or shellfish), offering multiple dishes that progress from simple, approachable weeknight fare to fancy, special dishes I never would have thought of myself. I really think this is a book I could cook my way through, Julie and Julia-style, and have lots of fun doing so. My husband and I both enjoy all manner of ocean fare, as I love to say, so maybe that is something I will actually do! (Sarah and Becky?) For now, I made, and greatly enjoyed, one dish: Mussels with Guinness Cream (full recipe on page 22 of Good Fish). Here is how I approached the dish.
My initial plan was to follow the recipe exactly as written and serve the mussels for dinner, alongside a green salad and crusty bread, the Saturday before we left. It was St. Patrick’s Day Eve, and the Guinness- and horseradish-heavy sauce seemed especially fitting. I was dismayed to find that the fish market I go to for most fish and seafood had unappealing, cracked, sad-looking mussels, with too many open (which can be a sign that they are dead) and too old of a harvest date for me to consider buying, let alone eating, them. We left and tried the grocery store, but they had no mussels at all. I figured I would wait and try again this week, after we came back from the coast. As we drove home, with our beautiful, fresh-off-the-boat Goose Point steamers on ice in the back of the car, I got the idea to use those instead of mussels and to use our remaining can of Fort George Cavatica Stout, a dark, slightly bitter, delicious beer from the brewery in Astoria, OR, in place of Guinness. Making those substitutions meant I wouldn’t have to roll the dice with finding acceptable mussels in the city; we were planning to have the steamers for dinner that night and I had all the ingredients for the cream sauce. If you’ve ever cooked shellfish before, you know that it’s fairly quick and easy once they are clean and ready to go– this was the best post-vacation dinner, for two weary travelers, I’ve ever had. The steamers cooked in 3 minutes (the sauce took another 10 mins. or so, total) and were fresh, sweet and delicious; the accompanying sauce made of stout, honey, horseradish and cream (hello!) was maybe a little more bitter than it would have been with Guinness, but still outstanding. This is a meal I will make again, maybe with mussels next time, maybe with steamers, and probably soon. It was a fitting end to a fun, special weekend and a delicious new way to serve one of our favorite kinds of shellfish.
Next month for Cook the Books we will be experimenting with Jewish comfort food from The Mile End Cookbook; the selections for May through August were just announced. (Don’t they look great?) I say it every month, I know, but I am really loving this challenge. Don’t be surprised if you see more Good Fish-inspired meals from me in the months to come, and make sure to take a look at the book yourself. It’s more than just a cookbook, offering information about purchasing responsibly to help ensure that our water-dwelling resources are harvested sustainably and remain viable. Plus, it’s pretty. Happy Cook the Books-ing!