It was Dr. Seuss’ birthday last week, March 2, so I got out his books, all of them favorites of mine, to read again.
Who knew I was being politicized when I relied on others to read me books long before I could read on my own? His words go much deeper than they appear at first glance.
His books make great beginning readers. True to the fairy tale form, they offer simple morality tales for kids. But some of his stories touch on complex social and political themes.
For example, “The Lorax” touches on environmental conservationism and activism.
Seuss wrote “Yertle the Turtle” in reaction to Hitler’s rise to power.
“The Sneetches” talks about racism and discrimination.
“The Butter Battle Book” covers the arms race.
“Horton Hears a Who” is about isolationism.
Lots of serious stuff.
Seuss writes, “If you never did, you should. These things are fun, and fun is good.”
Now that’s some good advice for the days when you’re taking everything much too seriously. That’s from “One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish.”
This story is encouraging people to be observant and imaginative. At the book’s start, we are asked to notice opposites: old and new, bad and glad, thin and fat, fast and slow, high and low. Comparison is an easy way to notice differences and uniqueness.
So, what does this have to do with a cooking column? Well, I was going to write about “Green Eggs and Ham” and give you a recipe for Florentine eggs, my version of green eggs, but “One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish” caught my eye because there are a lot of fish in the supermarkets right now. This is due to the Lenten season, when some Catholics eat fish or seafood in lieu of meat.
We can take Seuss’ encouragement to be observant to heart as we shop for fish. Start with the eyes — they should be clear and bright, not clouded or murky. A whole fish should look shiny,not slimy. Fresh fish flesh is firm and bounces back when you press into it.
And as counterintuitive as it may be, fresh fish should not smell fishy. It should smell like the ocean. A fishy smell means that fats inside the fish have begun to oxidize, a sign of decay and age.
Some people are intimidated by fish and then they make mistakes. But if you remember to get the pan searing hot before you add the fish, you’re halfway to success.
If you are frying your fish, the oil should be 375 F.
Don’t overcook fish. It’s done when there’s just that little bit of translucency left in the middle. Measure the thickest part of the fish and cook 10 minutes per inch.
If you use a marinade, go easy on the salt and don’t let fish marinate too long as it will make the fish soggy.
Blackened red snapper
— Recipe by Mario Batali of The Chew
4 fillets (6 to 8 oz.) red snapper fillets
Unsalted butter (to sauté)
1 lemon (halved)
Cajun seasoning mix:
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. ground black pepper
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. kosher salt
For the Cajun seasoning mix, thoroughly mix together all ingredients.
Season the snapper generously with the Cajun seasoning mix and gently pat into the fish to stick.
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add equal parts oil and butter. Once it has foamed and subsided, add snapper fillets (as many as fit comfortably,) skin side down, and cook until nearly opaque all the way through. Flip and cook another minute, then transfer to a platter. Wipe skillet clean and repeat with remaining fish.
Serve with lemon.