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From The Asian Reporter, V20, #24 (September 20, 2010), page 17.
Fishes & Dishes offers tasty recipes and a glimpse of life on the briny deep
The Fishes & Dishes Cookbook:
Seafood Recipes and Salty Stories from
Alaska’s Commercial Fisherwomen
By Kiyo Marsh, Tomi Marsh, and Laura Cooper
Epicenter Press, 2010
Paperback, 144 pages, $19.95
By Julie Stegeman
Commercial fishing in Alaska is not for the faint-of-heart; choppy, ice-cold seas, long hours, and severe weather select for adventurous, resilient, and hardy folk working to harvest the state’s seafood. Sisters Kiyo and Tomi Marsh and friend Laura Cooper, three women with more than 40 years experience between them fishing these waters, offer a window into this life with their book, The Fishes & Dishes Cookbook: Seafood Recipes and Salty Stories from Alaska’s Commercial Fisherwomen.
Fishes & Dishes is several books in one. It serves as a cookbook, with 80 easy-to-follow recipes designed to turn the bounty of Alaska’s water (or any seafood) into flavorful meals, several with an Asian flair. The book is also educational, providing information on subjects such as types of salmon, the history of the Aleutian Islands, pairing wine with seafood, sailor superstitions (women on ships are bad luck!), and more. But perhaps, most interestingly, there are stories and even a few poems by the authors and other women who have fished commercially in Alaska, which give an intriguing perspective into the traditionally male-dominated profession.
In the book’s introduction, we learn about some of the authors’ history. Tomi started out on a fishing boat as a cook to earn money for college. She had no experience and did not even know how to make coffee. After several seasons in Alaska, she bought her own boat, the F/V Savage, and has been fishing ever since. Her sister Kiyo spent five years fishing, crewing, and cooking on Tomi’s boat and "loved the feeling of empowerment fishing gave her, that she was a stronger, more resilient person than she’d thought." Laura Cooper also fished in Alaska’s waters; the women met through Laura’s husband, a pilot.
Drawing on their experiences "cooking in the ditch" (the trough of a wave) as well as their Japanese and European heritage, the women created the recipes for Fishes & Dishes.
The book opens with "Fish Basics for Greenhorns," which includes helpful tips for inexperienced fish cooks (such as the proper way to shuck an oyster), a description of three techniques — grilling, marinating, and salting and brining — used for preparing seafood, and a list of fishing terms used in the cookbook with which the landbound might not be familiar.
The heart of the book, its 80 recipes, includes breakfast items, salads, main dishes, sandwiches, and more, all with seafood playing a starring role. A number of the recipes are Asian inspired, such as "Crab Foo Yung with Gravy," "Grilled Sake Salmon," "Vietnamese Shrimp Sandwiches (Banh Mi)," and "Seared Halibut with Lemongrass and Chili." Most of the ingredients can be found in a regular supermarket, although a few call for more difficult-to-find items, such as fresh shiso leaves for "Crab, Shiso, and Avocado Tempura Salad." Instructions are straightforward and easy to follow. An attempt at making "Salmon Cakes with Asian Slaw" produced a crisp-on-the-outside, moist-on-the-inside, well-spiced fish cake with a nicely contrasting, crunchy slaw.
Peppered throughout the recipes are stories by various fisherwomen about their lives on ships. One, "Bearing Sea Rescue" — written by Tomi Marsh about saving a man who had fallen into the dangerously cold water — drives home the peril inherent in the author’s career choice. Others describe cooking on the high seas, a ship’s cat, learning the "ropes" on a ship, and the lure of the lifestyle.
Also found throughout the book are beautiful photographs of Alaska and its fisherwomen, seafood, and ships. Unfortunately there are no pictures of the finished recipes, however, that just may inspire readers to find out for themselves what the dishes look like, if the thought of fresh seafood isn’t enough.
With its colorful stories and pictures, Fishes & Dishes may inspire an impromptu fishing trip or even a visit to the Alaskan coast.
The authors of Fishes & Dishes will be in Oregon next month. On Thursday, October 7 at 2:00pm, they will make an appearance at Zupan’s Market (7221 S.W. Macadam Avenue, Portland) for a drop-in event featuring snacks made from recipes in the book.
Book readings and signings will be held on the Oregon coast October 8 and 9. Friday’s appearance takes place at Lucy’s Books (348 12th Street, Astoria) at 5:00pm. Saturday’s signing is held at the Cannon Beach Book Company (130 N. Hemlock Street, Suite 2, Cannon Beach) at 2:00pm.
To learn more, visit <www.fishesanddishes.com>.