The last year and a half has found many of us cooking from home more than ever. And, as Row 34 chef Jeremy Sewall tells it, more people are getting creative with making fish in their own kitchens, since they haven’t been going to restaurants as much.
“Restaurants made up 80 percent of all seafood consumed in restaurants pre-pandemic and 90 percent of all lobster consumed in restaurants. Not many people would comfortably eat cooked seafood at home on a regular basis. They’d grill a steak or chicken. But now people are cooking at home more,” Sewall told me a few months ago.
Fortuitously, then, he released “The Row 34 Cookbook: Stories and Recipes from a Neighborhood Oyster Bar” (Rizzoli) last week with longtime collaborator Erin Byers Murray, formerly a Boston-based journalist. The book features his favorite seafood recipes, simple enough for the home cook to pull off.
“The average home cook is going to find plenty to do here. I also think that the more experienced cooks are going to find some stuff that’s going to be different and challenging to them,” he says.
Sewall has had a long and storied career in the Boston restaurant business. He used to run Brookline neighborhood restaurant Lineage, which closed in 2016 after a decade. Earlier this year, he split with longtime partners Garrett Harker and Skip Bennett, and their Island Creek Oyster Bar in Kenmore Square closed. Now, Sewall is focused on Row 34, which has locations in Burlington, Fort Point, and Portsmouth, N.H.
“I want people to eat seafood, and I think that there is so much kind of — not mystery, but I think there’s just a little bit of hesitation: the mental block of seafood at home for people. I’m just trying to help them get over it,” he says.
In that spirit, he shared three of his favorite recipes with the Globe.
Grilled Fish Tails with Salsa Verde
Grilled fish tails tend to get a bad rap, Sewall laments.
“It’s an awkward portion, so it usually ends up getting chopped up for ceviche or something. But, man, this is such a good-looking piece of meat: the bone in, and the skin on, and all that stuff that makes fish super-tasty and unique is all right there, so we started putting it on the menu,” he says. “It’s a fun thing to eat, meant to be communal. … It’s not a dainty food. You’re interacting with it. You’re pulling away the flesh from the bone, and it’s a really unique thing to eat that’s absolutely delicious.”
This dish calls for striper, which he gets locally. Snapper, trout, salmon, or small tuna also work. He likes to buy his fish at Red’s Best inside the Boston Public Market, New Deal in Cambridge, or Captain Marden’s Seafoods in Wellesley.
Grilled Swordfish with Horseradish Butter and White Beans
“This recipe is easy, and I think horseradish is delicious,” he says. “It’s a big flavor, and swordfish holds up to it. You can really have it ready and pull it together at the last minute, with your beans ready and your butter made.”
Note to harried chefs: Yep, it’s OK to use canned beans. And if you don’t like white beans, kidney beans or chickpeas are perfectly fine. Squirt liberally with lemon.
“Don’t be afraid of acid: Lots of lemon everywhere is great for the dish,” he says.
Saison-Steamed Littlenecks with Parsley Butter and Grilled Sourdough
“This recipe was born out of steaming clams with beer, in a lager or Pilsner. The reason I use Pilsner or lager is it’s a flavor that blends well with all the others,” he says. (Stouts or porters would be over the top, he warns.)
But while shooting photos for the book at his house, he didn’t have Pilsner on hand. Instead, he grabbed a Trillium Saison du Row, and it worked.
“It was freakin’ delicious,” he says. “I think we drank as much as we cooked with them. With this recipe, I always chuckle when I see it. It was a lot of fun. Part of cooking is the exploration and discovery of all that stuff, for somebody like me who’s done this since I was 18 years old.”
Most of all, it’s a crowd-pleaser.
“I’d make this for the fanciest food people or for the guy who mows lawns down the street. You pull a clam out, and it’s delicious and beautiful. And that’s what seafood is. There’s such purity in these products. It’s unlike anything else. You’re not going to put a tray of chicken down and get the same reaction.”