Meet ‘The Fisherman’s Wife’ Cookbook Author Stephanie Villani

"The Fisherman's Wife" cookbook by Stephanie Villani
“The Fisherman’s Wife” cookbook by Stephanie Villani, Photo: Kevin Bay, Igor Terekhov/123RF

The cookbook The Fisherman’s Wife, Sustainable Recipes and Salty Stories was recently released by Breakwater Media. It was conceived and written by the wife of a commercial fisherman, Mattituck’s Stephanie Villani, with photos by Kevin Bay. The book has enjoyed immediate acclaim and Villani is in high demand for appearances because these no-nonsense recipes really work. You can meet Villani at Canio’s Books in Sag Harbor on Saturday, November 18.

We caught up with Villani recently and she gave us the inside scoop on her experience of writing this delish cookbook.

When did you know that you would write this cookbook?
I have wanted to do this for several years. I have been selling fish for 25 years, so I wanted to collect all the great recipes floating around the fish stand.

How did the cookbook evolve during its writing?
Originally we wrote a 75-page proposal and laid it out like a book, with photographs. We knew we wanted recipes, stories about fishing and the markets and recipes from some of the New York chefs we sell to. We stayed with that vision.

Do you have another book in the works?
I have some ideas for more than one! Some are cookbooks, some novels.

Do you have any advice for would-be cookbook authors?
I would look into self publishing. There are a lot more options available to writers these days (originally I did not want to go down that route!). Probably the most important [thing] to me is that we were able to create the book we wanted to, without a publishing company trying to change it. 

What does your daughter like to cook from this book? How old is she now?
She’s 10 now, she loves to fry calamari with her dad. She is also into chowder.

What seasonal dishes are you cooking these days?
Some different chowders—baked clams and roasted oysters are great in the fall. I’m waiting to get a hold of some cod—we like to roast it in the oven with potatoes and butter. Super simple and super delicious.

 Tell us your favorite “trash fish” to cook?
All the fishermen are stunned that there are sea robin recipes in the book! I like to cook blowfish—they are really tasty and a real Long Island thing. You fry them and eat them like a little chicken drumstick.

What do people tell you they find most surprising about the cookbook?
The stories about commercial fishing. People say “I didn’t know….” They see us at the market but they don’t see the days of hard work that it takes to get us there each week. Lots of crazy things happen, like our truck burning down on the Expressway on the way to the market, or our cat hiding in the truck and jumping out into Prospect Park in Brooklyn. 

Is there anything else you’d like to tell readers about your life’s adventures?
We still have fun with what we do! We like working for ourselves and we like the people we’ve met over the years. People seem really intrigued that we take our daughter out of school in Cutchogue every year and enroll her down in the Florida Keys, where we spend the winter. So far so good!

Meet author and fisher Stephanie Villani at Canio’s Books in Sag Harbor on Saturday, November 18 at 5 p.m. Get copies of her fabulous cookbook signed for you, and to give as gifts this holiday season. In the meantime, try her scrumptious recipe below.

Spice-Rubbed Striped Bass from "The Fisherman's Wife" Stephanie Villani
Spice-Rubbed Striped Bass from Stephanie Villani, Photo: Kevin Bay

Spice-Rubbed Striped Bass
Serves 2

We use a dry spice rub on ribs quite often; it is easy and very flavorful. Here are two different rubs that work well on the meaty, firm flesh of the striped bass. It’s easy to throw on the grill, or you can use a grill pan on the stovetop or broil in the oven.

For the Bass:
1 large fillet striped bass, about 1 pound

Cinnamon Spice Rub
2 tablespoons ground red pepper
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Mix all spices together. Store in a tightly sealed container.

Turmeric Spice Rub
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground garlic
½ teaspoon black pepper

Mix all spices together. Store in a tightly sealed container.

Trim the bass of any ragged edges or stray bones and cut it into two or three smaller pieces.

Using one of the above rubs, rub each piece of the fish with a liberal amount of spice, covering the fillet entirely.

Put on a plate and cover with plastic wrap, or use a Tupperware container with a lid. Refrigerate the fish for 3 to 4 hours, letting the spice penetrate the flesh.

Prepare a grill or grill pan. Grill the fillets, 4 to 5 minutes on a side, depending on the thickness of the fillet.

Recipe and image from The Fisherman’s Wife, copyright 2017, reprinted with permission of Stephanie Villani and Kevin Bay. The Fisherman’s Wife is available now from your local bookstore, including Canio’s in Sag Harbor and Burton’s Book Store in Greenport.

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