'Top Chef' alum Brooke Williamson shares tips for cooking seafood this summer
It's the time of year for holding tight, hoping to squeeze out every last moment of summer. From lazy days and sandy afternoons to a cornucopia of seasonal delights — there's nothing that goes better with the season than seafood. From buttery Maine lobster rolls to flakey Chilean seas bass, the reason for the summer season just may be delicious and light seafood bursting with flavor.
The one catch (no pun intended)? It can be intimidating to cook seafood in your own kitchen and expensive to order it when dining out. But chef Brooke Williamson, star of the new Food Network series Beachside Brawl says there's no reason to shy away from seafood.
Williamson's newest competition show challenges teams of cooks in the ultimate West Coast versus East Coast "brawl" to crown which deserving coast serves the best beach eats. Born in Los Angeles, Calif., the Top Chef alum co-owns Playa Provisions in Playa Del Rey and Company for Dinner hospitality group with her chef husband Nick Roberts.
Her favorite fish of the season? "Wild seafood from Alaska is the perfect protein for summer, as it compliments many seasonal and fresh ingredients while keeping the dish light," Williamson tells Yahoo Life. "I like to work with produce in the peak of its season to pair with seafood. Utilizing seasonal produce allows for deliciousness in simplicity and allows for the seafood to shine."
Williamson, who spoke with Yahoo Life as part of her work promoting Alaska Seafood, says making fresh and light seafood dishes in your own kitchen doesn't have to be a struggle.
In summer, she says it's best to avoid heavy stews and creamy textures that better compliment the colder months. Warm weather is all about meals that are light and bright but still full of flavor — and home cooks will be delighted to learn it doesn't have to be complicated. No laundry list of ingredients here, just minimum effort and maximum satisfaction.
"There's a wide array of frozen, fresh and canned seafood options that can be simply sautéed or grilled and paired with bright vegetables," says Williamson. "One dish I recently created that's perfect for the summer is a cod with asparagus and peas. The cod is lightly-seared and then covered with an anchovy butter sauce and vegetables."
Williamson especially loves to cook with wild Alaska sockeye salmon, the season for which season begins in May and lasts through September. She says it's different from the standard salmon many are familiar with and has a richer, more vivid color and flavor profile. "With salmon, I make a tomato and fennel soffritto with tahini sauce and pine nut dukkha, shares Williamson. "It has deep spices with the coriander, cumin and sesame seed dukkha, yet a light base with tomatoes, piquillo peppers, fennel and onion."
In her kitchen arsenal, Williamson has found the rice cooker to be an invaluable tool, using it to make fresh sushi rice. She says those short on time but still looking to satisfy an appetite, can simply sear a piece of salmon and serve it over rice with whatever vegetables are on hand and some miso dressing.
Beginners can also never go wrong with an appetizer staple, adds the Top Chef Season 14 winner. "I'm a sucker for a simple seafood cocktail," she says. "Many people don't think of finned fish when they think of a seafood cocktail, but most fish can be simply poached and chilled and served with a remoulade or horseradish cocktail sauce."
She lists rockfish as one of the best seafood cocktail fishes, explaining that it's delicious and a perfect pairing for warm weather. Alaskan rockfish also accounts for one of her favorite dishes she serves at Playa Provision. There, the rockfish is served over crispy rice with a green bean vinaigrette. The meaty fish is mild and pairs well with a vinaigrette that's layered with flavors thanks to Fresno chilis, ginger, scallions, chives and green beans. "It has very clean flavors, which is exactly how I like to eat in the summer," she says.
Ready to try summer fish recipes in your own kitchen? Williamson shares tips for the at-home cook.
Start with high-quality seafood
"When shopping for seafood, I always check the origin of where it comes from and look for fish that comes from Alaska because all seafood out of the state is guaranteed to be wild and sustainably caught," she says. "Sustainable fishing is written into the state's constitution."
"This includes salmon, halibut, cod, rockfish, crab, pollock and more," she adds. "Not only is Alaska seafood sustainable, but the natural environment produces seafood that is lean and flavorful."
Don't be afraid to ask questions
Williamson says it's OK to ask questions at your local seafood counter. "At the grocery store or market, your fishmonger can tell you where your fish comes from to help ensure you are making a sustainable choice," she says. "Your fishmonger is also the most knowledgeable person to ask about freshness and quality."
"Do not be afraid to try new types of fish," she adds. "Many may be most familiar with salmon, but other species like halibut, cod and rockfish are just as flavorful and easy to cook."
"These species are also so versatile," she continues," and can be served hot or cold or turned into cakes or used in stews and soups."
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