Photo: James Carriere
Cindy's 5 Best Tips for Enjoying the Ocean's Edible Gifts
- Start Smart. If you're just learning to cook fish, Pawlcyn recommends going local first, if possible. Maybe that's catfish or lake trout, for example. "Try fish that's less expensive for your region. This way, you don't have the added stress of using very expensive seafood," she says. "Also, I buy fish from certain purveyors because I trust them. Even at your local grocery store, there's someone you can ask, 'What would you eat tonight?'"
- Keep It Simple. Don't start by cooking for company. Cook for your family first, and make it simple. Too often, people stress themselves out with complex recipes, and they end up hating the experience. "It can be as easy as one or two herbs, butter or olive oil, and a little lemon juice, and you're there!" Pawlcyn says. "Follow with some background vocals of onions, shallots, or garlic; then roast it or pan-sear it."
- But Don't Be Afraid to Play Around. "Go online and research different cultures and how they cook fish," she says. "You'll find interesting ideas that will make you inspired, not intimidated."
- Have a Backup Plan. Even if you overcook fish, it's not necessarily ruined. "Make a tartar sauce or aioli. Sauces that are rich and a bit fatty give the fish some moisture that's lost in overcooking," Pawlcyn says. "At least you've learned how to do it better next time."
- Be Eco-Friendly. "I'm a very firm believer in sustaining our oceans. The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch phone app is an easy way to check and see if your purchase is sustainable before you buy." No smartphone? Visit seafoodwatch.org for a printable pocket guide of options for your region.
Cindy Pawlcyn's love for fish is about more than creating and enjoying delicious food. It's also a way of reconnecting to her family, her past, and her calling. The celebrated California chef grew up in Minnesota, the Land of 10,000 Lakes. "I was like an ice fishergirl," Pawlcyn says, recalling her early days tagging along on fishing runs with her dad and Uncle Pete. "We'd go out on the lakes and catch sunfish and bluegills. We even caught fish for Christmas Eve dinner."
For the past three decades, the Pacific Ocean has served as her backdrop and inspiration. A culinary partner at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Pawlcyn runs an on-site eatery, Cindy's Waterfront. "Since I was little, I thought I'd have a restaurant on the water, and here I am sitting in the dining room looking out over the ocean," she says.
Considering her history, it's not surprising that Pawlcyn is downright exuberant when it comes to the idea of adding more fish to Americans' plates. She offers a multitude of mouthwatering descriptions of her favorite fish-centric meals: coho salmon with shaved asparagus and ginger; a fish tostada with fresh tomatillo salsa, slaw, and crème fraîche; smoky barbecued fish with marinated vegetables. "Fish is such a flavorful, versatile ingredient," she says.