Shellfish: The Cookbook
edited by Karen Barnaby
Published by Whitecap Books
224 pages, 2008
Reviewed by Linda L. Richards
The title of Karen Barnaby’s ninth cookbook puts me in mind of the first time I encountered this chef’s food. It was my first visit to Vancouver’s Fish House in Stanley Park and it was deep in the 1990s. In retrospect, at the time Barnaby could only have been executive chef there for a couple, three years, at most. I ordered the cioppino, a special favorite of mine and one I’ve discovered is a good test of a chef whose work is new to you. It seems to me that a cioppino will show you something of a chef’s soul.
When my cioppino arrived that first night it took my breath away. For starters it was, quite simply, the loveliest food that had ever been set in front of me. At a glance it all looked perfectly cooked. But more: it was artfully presented. It was beautiful. Eating it brought no disappointments. I instructed my server to send compliments to the chef and after a while Barnaby appeared at our table. I supplicated accordingly, telling her just what I felt: that no one had ever served me food quite so lovely. She took these compliments as was her due: pleasantly but without surprise. One got the feeling she’d heard these effusions before.
A decade later -- slightly more -- and I’ve had the opportunity to eat a lot more of Barnaby’s food. And because she’s also proven to be a wonderful author of cookbooks, some of Barnaby’s food that I’ve enjoyed has been cooked by my own hand.
As luck would have it, her newly published Shellfish includes a recipe for cioppino: perhaps not such a surprise in a book with this title. Barnaby has included other shellfish standards as well as kicky new taste combinations you would likely have never dreamed up on your own or found in another cookbook.
I love Barnaby’s Prosciutto-Wrapped Prawns with Basil Dipping Sauce (almost as easy to eat as it is to prepare) and the Lobster Mango Salad with Lime and Coriander bring together several of my own favorites in a way I would never have dreamed.
A lot of mussels get prepared in my house, so it was fun to encounter several treatments that were absolutely new to me, included Salt-Roasted Mussels with Malt Vinegar Aioli and Moules Brulées, which are not only super easy to prepare, but a great dish for company because most of the preparation is done up to eight hours in advance of serving, then -- as the name implies -- they’re finished in a few minutes under the broiler.
Like all of Barnaby’s cookbooks -- including her most recent, 2006’s Halibut, obviously meant to be a companion to this book -- there is a sort of powerful and inviting insouciance to this author’s words. On reading her work; eating her food, one imagines Barnaby in her kitchen, joy on her face, hands on hips, laughter bubbling in her throat. I can’t think of a more compelling invitation to dig into her latest cookbook. | March 2008
Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine. Her fourth novel, Death was the Other Woman, is published by St. Martin's Minotaur/Thomas Dunne Books.