Fish Friday: Raise a glass to seafood…but not the one you think

If you’re still believe that fish = white wine – hey, the ’70s called and they want their Blue Nun back. Today is the age of the craft brewery, and beer’s glorious variety pairs just as well – or better – with creative fish and shellfish dishes. Just how well was clear at a special beer and seafood dinner that I had the pleasure to attend this week at Mandolin in

yellowin funa tartare

yellowfin tuna tartare on Vietri plate

Raleigh. I was honored that chef Sean Fowler was inspired by “Carolina Catch: Cooking North Carolina Fish and Shellfish from Mountains to Coast” to bring the feast celebrating the state’s bounty together.

Instead of wine pairings, beers from five local breweries were matched with the courses, which were prepared by chefs Matt Kelly of St. James Seafood, Eric Montagne of Locals Seafood, Bill Hartley and James Clark of Postal Fish Company, Jake Wood of 18 Seaboard, Ricky Moore of Saltbox Seafood Joint, Matt Kelly of Mateo Tapas and Fowler.

I even sipped an IPA, which I usually despise. But the bitterness of Neuse River Brewing Company’s white IPA perfectly balanced the richness of Moore’s North River Clambake Ragout (wood-grilled black drum and summer truffle-corn soubise). Fullsteam Brewery’s light yet flavorful Paycheck Pilsner matched Fowler’s first course, Yellowfin Tuna Tartare (potato chips, saffron, quail egg and herbs). Other beers from Lynnwood Brewing Concern, Bond Brothers and Brewery Bhavana showed what great food and great beer can do together.

As you’re exploring new-to-you kinds of North Carolina fish and shellfish, tap into local beers, too.

Now, go fish!

To learn even more, take a look at “Carolina Catch.” And the Moose is loose! Visit Events at to find a cooking class or signing I’m doing near you.

Fish Fridays: A grunt by any other name would taste as good

Flounder, snapper grouper – these are the perky cheerleaders of the fish world. Everybody loves them But give some love to less familiar fish, such as the grunt.

Maybe we should start by getting this fish a new name, because that’s a terrible one to hang on a delicious flaky, white fish. But as I learned working on “Carolina Catch: Cooking North Carolina Fish and Shellfish from Mountains to Coast” (UNC Press), there are a lot of good fish in the sea (and the ponds).

Less familiar kinds of North Carolina fish are just as good to cook and eat as what I call the Big Three (see above) and seeking them out lessens overfishing pressures on popular fish. Also, you’ll find new and delightful things to eat. In “Carolina Catch,” I offer information on substituting different kinds of fish in recipes, and how to find fish you might like based on what you currently enjoy. For example, if you want to substitute something for flounder, look for another thin and flaky fish (not a thick and steak-like one, such as mahi). An important piece of advice: Find a fishmonger who knows North Carolina fish and shellfish to guide you in selections.

Here are a few of my don’t-miss fish. Try them!

– Tilefish cooks up with a beautiful white color and tender, flaky texture. Its delicate, sweet flavor requires little more than a squeeze of lemon and a bit of butter. You’ll never look at flounder again.

– Sheepshead offers texture and flavor that stand up to being simmered or baked in sauces.

– Trout, whether farmed or wild-caught, can be used any way you’d cook snapper or flounder, and it’s especially tasty fried (although, what isn’t?)

Now, go fish!

To learn even more – and get recipes from appetizers to sides – take at a look at the book. And visit the Events list at to find a signing or cooking class I’m doing near you.

Welcome to Fish Fridays!

The alliteration was irresistible. So stop by here every Friday for the next eight weeks as I offer tips, hints and information that will help you overcome any “fear of fish” in your kitchen.

I found out a lot in working on my new cookbook, “Carolina Catch: Cooking North Carolina Fish and Shellfish from Mountains to Coast” (UNC Press). “Carolina Catch” features more than 90 recipes plus a guide to the state’s fish and shellfish – freshwater, saltwater, wild-caught and farmed. Turn to the Best Basics section  for detailed information on selecting, storing and preparing fish.

Let’s start with three kitchen tools for cooking fish and shellfish that will change your world.  These are all indispensable in my kitchen.

1. Instant-read thermometer. Many people overcook fish, end up with a wad of sandpaper and declare they don’t like fish. Wrong – you just messed up in cooking it. A simple instant-read thermometer, plus the exact temperatures and times in Best Basics, will help you stop guessing and have great fish.

fish spatula

fish spatula

2. Grill pan. In the summer, I like to cook everything on the grill (I’ve even grilled salads). A grill pan with a perforated bottom ensures against shrimp or fish falling through the grill grates, and is easy to clean. I usually spray mine with cooking spray before grilling even if the pan claims to be nonstick.

3. Fish spatula. This tool is great for everything, from turning fish to lifting frittatas or omelets from the frying pan. I hardly use my regular spatulas anymore. It’s thin, slotted, has a slanted edge and is wide enough that you can lift fish without breaking up the filet.

Now, go fish!

To learn even more, take at look at “Carolina Catch.” And the Moose is loose! Visit Events at to find a cooking class or signing I’m doing near you.