Since opening GW Fins in 2001, chef and co-owner Tenney Flynn has shared his love letters to seafood one plate at a time.
Now Flynn collects many of those dishes in his cookbook “The Deep End of Flavor: Recipes and Stories from New Orleans’ Premier Seafood Chef,” released Aug. 13 by Gibbs Smith. The book contains a variety of seafood dishes and step-by-step techniques designed for home cooks.
Throughout, Flynn emphasizes the importance of sustainability, a cause for which he has advocated as a member of the board of the Louisiana Seafood Association and as chefs’ council chairman for the Audubon Nature Institute’s G.U.L.F. (Gulf United for Lasting Fisheries). He also spearfishes one of the Gulf’s most predatory invasive species, lionfish.
Gambit: Is there one fish or seafood dish all cooks should have in their arsenal?
Flynn: This is meant to be a technique book for the home cook. It’s not really a chef-y coffee table book. We start with basic saute meuniere, and you build on that with different ingredients — brown butter, Parmesan crust, but still a very quick saute. That’s the one everybody needs to master first. If you’ve got the equipment and skill set to fry an egg, you should be able to fry a fish fillet in about the same amount of time. And here we’re very lucky — we have a lot of relatively inexpensive local fish we can use for that recipe like sheepshead, drum and speckled trout. If you don’t fish, cultivate some friends that do.
Grilling food requires a certain amount of attention, and may not be the preference for all diners. A table too caught up in conversation (or sake) easily can end up with burnt ends.
G: What can individuals do to support sustainable fishing?
F: One sentence: Buy American. Don’t buy imported fish. There’s no reason to.
Nobody — not commercial fishermen, not recreational fishermen — likes fishing regulations. [People say] they’re too stringent, they’re not stringent enough. But regulations are the reason we have a vibrant fishery in the U.S. I’ve scuba dived in some pretty faraway places, and places that have no regulations have no fish.
Farm-raised imported fish are raised under conditions that don’t bear scrutiny. There’s absolutely no reason to buy imported shrimp. Some people buy imported crawfish because they’re a lot cheaper, but there’s a reason for that.
In the restaurant, we think nose to tail. (Executive chef Mike Nelson) came up with a way of butchering fish collars where you hold the fish by the wing and eat it like chicken. He calls them ‘fin wings.’
And we reject a lot of fish. What I’ve heard for years, and I enjoy hearing, is that we’re pickier than the sushi bars.
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G: What’s your next catch?
F: Seafood is endlessly interesting, and what we grow better than anybody in the U.S. is seafood. Sixty-six percent of edible finfish species come out of the Gulf of Mexico. That’s more than the East and West coasts and Alaska combined. Alaska has more tonnage than we do, but we have more variety, including things like tuna and Spanish mackerel. Soft-shells are gigantic right now, and pompano will come in any minute. That’s really one of my favorite fish. A little bit of salt, maybe a squeeze of lemon — it’s the greatest fish in the world, even raw. It’s a chef’s truism: When a product’s great, you don’t have to do much to it.
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