When A. J. McClane, who served as fishing editor of Field & Stream for 30 years, writes a book, the result is almost always memorable. The Practical Fly Fisherman, republished in a new edition in 1975, is a standard in the field (the first edition, issued in 1953, is a collector's item, commanding more than $100 at last report), and McClane's New Standard Fishing Encyclopedia and International Angling Guide is a monumental work without peer. Now McClane has written The Encyclopedia of Fish Cookery (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, $35). As McClane's readers have come to expect, it is an extraordinarily thorough volume, containing more than 350 recipes, almost 700 color photographs by Arie deZanger and reams of information and advice.
To McClane, there is no finer food than a fish taken fresh from the water and prepared with "a totality of concept, usually simple in form but accompanied by vegetables or fruits of the season and fresh garden herbs in honest sauces—when sauces are required." Although the U.S. is blessed with a rich bounty of fishes (even given its pollution problems), McClane contends that most Americans have little "understanding [of] the raw materials" that make fish a gustatory treat. This applies equally to the angler who fails to dress and chill his catch properly and to diners who are squeamish about eating, say, the grotesque-looking sea robin, an abundant fish that is excellent when broiled and is the grondin of authentic Marseillaise bouillabaisse.
McClane's career in the kitchen—and he is a well-known gourmet, with such dishes as lobster Thermidor McClane (he adds mushroom caps and whipped cream to the standard recipe) named after him—has been part hobby and part "self-defense." The latter, he claims, was brought about by his years of travel, frequently to remote regions where cooking was "often pertinent to survival." There is some exaggeration here, because it is obvious that McClane survived very well, be it living on whitefish while stranded on Baffin Island or eating grilled salmon steaks in a sauce proven‚Äö√†√∂‚àö√ºale prepared over an alderwood fire in the wilds of British Columbia by none other than Charles Ritz. McClane also knows his way around the better restaurants of the world (some of the top seafood chefs contributed recipes to the book), and as might be expected of such a globe-trotter, he has a planetary view of piscatorial fare.
He writes authoritatively of the preparation of sashimi, a raw fish delicacy of Japan, in which different cuts are used for different species (tuna or tilefish are cubed but red snapper should be sliced paper thin). McClane warns that freshwater fish and saltwater drum should never be eaten raw because of potentially hazardous parasites. There is a lengthy discourse on herring that includes, as do other entries when appropriate, definitions of the terminology used. The name Matjes herring, for instance, is derived from the Dutch word for maiden, because the fish come from the first catch of the year when the gonads are, at most, only slightly developed. In the entry on sole. McClane describes the 33 classic French versions. The Chinese get highest marks ("the finest cuisine in the world"), and as proof he cites the undistinguished rock-fish, which can be made into an elegant dish by using the unique Mandarin method of "scoring" to assure perfect heat penetration. There are articles on cooking methods and frozen fish; in the entry on the goldeye, a rare delicacy from Canada and the Dakotas, McClane notes that this fish is one of the few that actually improves with freezing.
Familiar fish are treated in as much detail as exotic ones. There are entries on carp, catfish, sunfish ("The crisply fried tail is a nutlike dividend") and yellow perch, of which McClane writes, "Few mortals would deny that a yellow perch taken from a clear cold pond is a supreme taste experience."
McClane also discusses squid, periwinkles ("delicious when simply boiled in salted water"), clams, sea urchins, scallops (accompanied by a mouth-watering photograph of a dish called Peachy Calico Scallops), crabs, lobsters, crayfish (the largest is found in Tasmania, "a culinary treasure" that weighs about eight pounds) and mussels. Mussels are not only superb eating but "extremely nutritious, containing about 12% protein, 2% fat and 4% to 8% carbohydrate. A mussel is relatively rich in vitamins, particularly A, and minerals such as iron, copper, calcium and phosphorus." For all this, mussels are relatively unpopular in the U.S., although the French alone eat 80,000 tons a year.
Oysters draw considerable attention from McClane. Oysters Rockefeller are really Hu‚Äö√†√∂‚àö√útres à la Montpellier, but they were so renamed in this country because of the richness of the ingredients (spinach, parsley, fennel, shallots and scallions). The U.S. leads the world in oyster production, followed by Japan, France, Denmark, The Netherlands and Canada, and those found on the Atlantic Coast of this country are unexcelled. Of these, says McClane, the best are oysters from Florida's Indian River. One could quarrel with him on that; a leading Chesapeake Bay oyster authority once told me that the best oysters came from New York's Long Island Sound, mainly because the water temperatures there are the closest to ideal. But then, chacun à son go‚Äö√†√∂¬¨‚Ñ¢t.