Lynne Rossetto Kasper is the creator of July's Seafood Watch Sustainable Seafood Recipe: Sicilian Sweet-and-Sour Seared Tuna. She's a respected authority on food and has published three bestselling books including The Splendid Table®'s How to Eat Supper with Sally Swift. Her popular program, "The Splendid Table®", can be heard on more than 200 public radio stations nationwide and her syndicated column, "How to Eat Supper," appears in 700 newspapers.
Where did the inspiration for this recipe come from?
The recipe is based on one from Sicily that's in a book I did called The Italian Country Table, that looks at rural life and country food of people all over Italy. Sicily is an island and most people think of it as being Italian, but it's just 90 miles off of the North African coast. It was taken over by the ancient Greeks thousands of years ago. The Arabs controlled the island from the ninth Century to around 1492, then France and Spain jockeyed back and forth for control—so the recipe comes out of an incredible history. It has flavors in it you would not see in much of the rest of Italy.
For the longest time, sugar was something that was only affordable to the very wealthy. It wasn't until maybe the Industrial Revolution, or at least the beginning of the 1800s, that most people could afford it. But Sicily was one of the places where sugar was processed, and this is one of the reasons why...you see a tremendous amount of sweet-sour flavors there. In the rest of Italy you would rarely ever see those tastes. So it's a really interesting kind of telltale recipe with a lot of historical threads you can follow like a yellow brick road.
What's the question you get asked most often about how to prepare seafood?
"How do I avoid overcooking it?" And the biggest mistake that people generally make is they use a fire or a burner that's too hot.
Any animal protein is going to be juicier, more tender and have more of its natural flavor if you cook it slowly. So use really aggressive heat just for a very short time—to get a little bit of browning—and then knock the heat down. If you're on a grill, use an indirect heat setup: one side of the grill with very few coals or a low burner, and the other side high, with a lot of coals. You start out on the high side, just to get a nice attractive bit of caramelization on the surface because that makes things taste so good, and then you just move it over and cook it really slow.
Are people more interested in where their food comes from today, than when your radio program started in 1995?
Yes, people are so much more curious, aware and concerned about where their food comes from, how it's been raised, how it's been caught and how it's been shipped. The only real objection I have to all of this is that all of those choices are generally only available to people of some affluence. And I wish those choices were available to everyone no matter where they were or where they stand on the economic scale.
Why do you feel it's important to use sustainable seafood?
There are only so many fish in this world, and only so many sources for safe food, from a health point of view as well as an ecological point of view. If we don't take care of seafood, if we don't protect it and grow up enough to understand that we can't have it all, all the time, there's just not going to be any more.
Tell us about the new cookbook you're working on.
It's about how to eat on weekends. We did a book about how to eat weeknight supper and there were so many things we had to leave out that take longer to cook, or that I think of as being "project" food: the kind of thing where you want to get together with a significant other or some pals, and go to an ethnic market and hang out in the neighborhood for a while, then make something really special; your own hand-made ravioli, or an India biryani, which is just an incredible dish.