Before you write off “Haddock Amandine Meuniere” as your grandmother’s favorite menu choice, know that the cookbook from whence this recipe comes is out of print. Paperback, third-edition copies on Amazon begin at $60; first edition hard-cover editions go up to $7064.64, plus $3.99 for shipping. The title – The Provincetown Seafood Cookbook, by Howard Mitchum – is so generic it’s hard to remember. And yet, Anthony Bourdain declared this the “best seafood cookbook in history.” Me, too.
Mitchum, born in Winona, Mississippi, divided his years between New Orleans and Provincetown, which says everything about this man’s vivacity, passion, gusto, and devotion to good food. The short bios that accompany his books online all describe him as an artist, a writer, a chef, and a raconteur, who was also deaf since his teenage years from spinal meningitis. Mitchum died in Provincetown in 1996.
To read The Provincetown Seafood Cookbook, is to hang out in Provincetown in the days when fisherman brought their trash fish into a bar, and handed it to the wife of the Portuguese owner. She took the fish into the kitchen, and returned with a steaming skillet of monkfish, squid, clams and linguica, which everyone ate for free. But you had to be polite – no greediness. Only the beer cost something.
Mitchum has recipes for roasting whole mackerel on a clean shovel in a coal or wood-burning stove, and he has directions for cooking it with gooseberries. He has recipes for the colloquial delicacy “fried codfish jawbones,” which looks like fried chicken legs, and, according to him, taste much better, and he has recipes for Lobster Bisque.
From basic to bawdy to genteel, Mitchum’s recipes for everything that comes out of the Provincetown sands or sea all have the stamp of true. A clambake is best done in galvanized trashcans on top of the stove. The ultimate celebration of a beautiful striped bass is “a real striped bass party,” in which the whole fish lies intact upon the table, stuffed with a filling so copious it involves many skillets: oysters, littlenecks, shrimp, scallops, salt pork, seasonings and 2 loaves of Portuguese bread.
One of the goals in question is aesthetic. You want to preserve the beauty of the bass so that when he’s laid out on the table he looks as fresh and alive as if he’d just jumped out of the water. This is complex and involves a lot of hokus pokus. You don’t cut off his head or his tail, and you don’t scale him; you carve out his beautiful golden eyeball, and put it in the refrigerator to keep it fresh and sparkling. Sounds gruesome put it’s part of the rigamarole.
From “Shrimp stuffed Avacados” to “Salt Codfish Hash with Eggs,” Mitchum’s recipes are all democracy, chosen only as the best ways to honor these maritime treasures, whether it means cooking them on the scalding pipe of the ship’s engine, or cloaking them in spinach, butter, breadcrumbs and a jigger of Absinthe.
Declared his most popular dish ever, Haddock Amandine Meuniere has been calling friends to Provincetown for years. But, the highest praise, Mitchum, admits, is that the Provincetowners themselves – mostly fisherman – love it, too.
“And, brother, when you sell a piece of fish to a Provincetown fisherman you have got it made: when they dine out in restaurants they usually eat T-bone steaks. I modestly advertise this on my menu as ‘probably the best piece of fish you will ever eat.’”
Haddock Amandine Meuniere, from The Provincetown Seafood Cookbook
6 – 3/4 pound haddock fillets
1/2 pound butter
juice of 2 lemons
1/4 pound sliced natural almonds
4 fresh mushrooms, sliced thinly
Take the haddock fillets and dip them in milk, then dredge them in flour. Shake off the surplus flour. Melt the butter in a large skillet, and place the fish in it. (skin side up if there is skin.) Cook slowly until brown, then flip it over with a spatula and brown the other side. Remember, this is a saute, a slow cook, now a hot fry, which would destroy the delicate flavor of the fish. Remove the fish and place on warm serving plates. Add the lemon juice to the butter in the pan. Add the almonds to the pan. Add the mushrooms. Raise the heat to medium-high and stir and scrape the bottom and sides of the pan to release any browned crumbs; these are delicious. Stir until the almonds turn a light golden brown. (Don’t let them get too brown or they will be bitter.); pour this sauce over the fish and serve immediately, piping hot.