Williamstown author encourages cooks to be fearless with fresh fish


There are 175 recipes in Jennifer Trainer Thompson's new book "Fresh Fish: A Fearless Guide to Grilling, Shucking, Searing, Poaching and Roasting Seafood."

While this collection (the author estimates it's her 14th cookbook) aims to take away any hesitance you've ever had about cooking fish, it also calls to the ocean, specifically the Massachusetts coast, where Thompson is from.

"I wanted to give innovative recipes that draw from coastal seafood, but I also wanted to show what it was like to live on the coast, and grow up on the coast and have sand between your toes," she said.

Thompson grew up summering in places like Buzzard's Bay and Wareham — she lives in Williamstown now — and "as I get older, I become more and more sentimental about that area. I love the coast," she said. "I wanted to write about the experience of how good it makes you feel by the sea, and of using the sea as your garden."

She'll be signing books at No. 6 Depot in West Stockbridge from 3 to 4 p.m. April 2, as well as at Mass MoCA at 5 p.m. April 8.

A seasoned food researcher (she's written other books on hot sauce, how to eat to maintain your eyesight, fresh eggs and more) and blogger at jumpupandkiss.me, Thompson spent two years developing recipes and plenty of time traveling across the New England coast, discovering new seafood specialities, like Rhode Island's dairy-free chowder, made with bacon. She spent time with sailors and fish-sellers in New Bedford, learning about how fish is caught and sold, and dove deep into the history of fish in New England.

"Massachusetts' fortunes in the 1700s were made on cod," she said.

Thompson says her recipe mantra is "easy cooking. Not a lot of ingredients, not a lot of fuss — try to let the fresh flavors come through." She offers tips for buying fresh fish — she says try Guido's in Pittsfield or Great Barrington — and lots of general advice, like the "10 minutes per inch" rule for filets.

The recipes run the gamut, with lots of nods to bacon and saffron, as well as traditional lemon butter. You'll find a whole chapter on chowder, including roasted corn chowder with crab and bacon; shellfish recipes like broiled oysters and steamed mussels with white wine and garlic-saffron toasts; filet classics like panko-crusted haddock with red beans and rice and cedar-planked salmon; and plenty of side dishes that complement fish dishes, like charred corn and avocado salsa and lemon-kale salad.

And there are also many substitution suggestions, a must in an over-fished world. Thompson also covers what's sustainable, and emphasizes that demand will help create new options.

"Things like skate will start to appear in the market if we cook with them," she said.

Thompson's number one fish tip is about sourcing.

"Half of your success is starting with fish that's fresh," she said. She writes as much in the book's introduction: "Great seafood — the heart of coastal New England cooking, due to the cold waters — deserves top billing. If it's impeccably fresh, the simplest treatment will shine."

get cooking

"Fresh Fish"

By Jennifer Trainer Thompson

Storey Publishing, March 2016

352 pages

Paper w/ flaps: $19.95; ISBN 978-1-61212-337-0

Hardcover w/ jacket: $29.95; ISBN 978-1-61212-808-5


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