Martha Watson Murphy knows the ocean. Her father was an officer in the U.S. Navy. She’s lived on both coasts, in the maritime provinces, and in Hawaii. Her husband is a veteran fisherman, and their century-old house overlooks the open sea. As a past professional chef, Murphy loves to cook seafood, which is one reason she wrote The New England Catch: A Seafood Cookbook. If anyone knows the culinary possibilities of fish and mollusks, it’s her.
Murphy also knows books. For years, she has worked as an author, ghostwriter, and writing coach. She spent years as manager of marketing and communications for South County Hospital in Wakefield, and she’s also co-written several books, with subjects as diverse as self-help and the lives of surgeons. After running her own B&B, Murphy wrote How to Start and Operate Your Own Bed and Breakfast. That early title was first published in 1994 and is still in print.
But The New England Catch is close to her heart. The pictorial cookbook was first released in the late ‘90s as A New England Fish Tale, and it combined recipes, anec- dotes, and a history of commercial fishing. Now, Globe Pequot Press has released a handsome new edition, with updated passages and photography.
“To me, it’s not a brand new book,” says Murphy. “There are many new recipes in there – between 50 and 75 new recipes. As I look back at the original book, I thought, some of these recipes are a bit time-consuming to make. I also noticed that my friends, who were savvy people, most of them good cooks and adventurous eaters, were not cooking seafood at home. Seafood is fresh and pretty affordable, but they were saying, ‘We just have no idea how to do that.’”
Murphy’s encouraging prose extends to every paragraph of the book. Most of Mur- phy’s recipes are accessible to cooks with basic skills, and the appendices include helpful tips, such as a seafood purchasing guide and step-by-step instructions for filleting fish. Murphy covers an astonishing range of dishes, from Clams Casino and Basic Steamed Shellfish to Monkfish Kabobs and Oyster Bread Pudding. Her goals are twofold: to diversify ingredients and to make seafood less intimidating.
“Friends would say, ‘My parents never cooked fish at home,’ or, ‘It’s so expensive, and I have to wait for a special occasion,’” says Murphy. “And some of it is a little expensive. But you don’t need a bunch of lobster to turn out an interesting dish. I wanted to show people you could do fun stuff with seafood, like put it on a pizza instead of pepperoni.”
Murphy acknowledges that seafood is now a hot-button environmental issue, with hard-working fishermen on one side and endangered marine life on the other. The issue is complicated, she says, and she hopes for balance between industry needs and government regulation. But Murphy also offers some thoughtful advice.
“One way to address overfishing is to broaden the variety of seafood that you eat,” she says. “There are lots of fish that land in this country, but they immediately go to Europe or Asia. Mackerel, for instance, is really delicious, and it’s readily available in the Atlantic waters. It’s extremely popular in Europe. They eat it smoked, pickled, in many different ways. I include recipes for mackerel, and if you start asking for it, there will be a demand. There’s lots and lots of variety. My advice is to eat a little bit of everything.”