Cynthia Nimes takes ‘oysters’ with 50 new recipes – The Loveland Reporter-Herald

How do you write a cookbook? Cynthia Nims has nine to her credit, each very full of her own recipes (she has co-authored several of them). The latest one—”oyster,” which just came out of Seattle’s Sasquatch Books—offers 50 new preparations I’ve created that include seven species of mollusks and crustaceans. A graduate of École de Cuisine La Varenne, she is also a former editor of Simply Seafood magazine, former food editor of Seattle magazine and a longtime freelance food writer. But, still: Where do all the recipes come from?

"Oysters: 50 seafood recipes for shrimp, crab, mussels, oysters, oysters, scallops, and lobsters," by Cynthia Nimes.  (Sasquatch Books/TNS)
Oysters: 50 seafood recipes for shrimp, crab, mussels, oysters, scallops, and lobster, by Cynthia Nimes. (Sasquatch Books/TNS)

The process of writing cookbooks varies, of course, for different cookbook authors—Nims recommends the podcast All Into Cookbooks for a broader behind-the-scenes look. As you might be curious, some of Nimes’ favorite cookbooks are Joe Yunnan’s “Cool Beans”, Paula Wolfert’s “Foods of Morocco”, James Beard’s American Cookery, and the latest “Joy of Cooking” and “All About Braising” books by Molly Stevens, who is also part of the ‘Everything Cookbooks’ podcast. (Nims made more titles but had to be stopped somewhere!)

Next, find Nimes’ own words about her cooking style and cookbook writing (she’s special), as well as what she calls her “beautiful crab and asparagus recipe” for oysters.

Cynthia Nimes In Her Everyday Style of Cooking – When She’s Not Working on a Cookbook:

Ninety-eight percent of the time – a rough guess – when I’m cooking and not testing a recipe, I do it without a recipe. Sometimes it’s something I cook often, and it will have slight variations. Other times, it’s something I’ve never cooked before and just fleshed out, based on elements from things I’ve cooked in the past or new ideas I’ve come across that I want to play with. I refer to several cookbooks in my collection if I’m feeling down or craving something less familiar with.

On how to put together a single dish from a random batch of ingredients plus how her brain works:

My monthly box of Hama Hama (Oyster Company) appeared on Thursday, (and) it contained a bag of mussels. I had cauliflower in the fridge, and a great homemade bacon in the freezer. I roast broccoli frequently and have the recipe for roasted mussels in the new book – why not combine the two? I put the chopped bacon in a large rectangular skillet to roast it until slightly crunchy. I extracted the bacon and got off most of the fat, then added the chopped cauliflower and garlic to the skillet, and grilled until lightly browned and mostly mushy. Then I added mussels and grilled them until they opened. It was aromatic and delicious – something I would do again.

Creating new combinations of ingredients using different technologies is something I do a lot. It’s one of the things I love most about cooking – I’m grateful to have the degree of comfort and skill in the kitchen to walk in and start. That’s why I’ll never be a great baker, because I can’t help myself from fiddling with formulas and wanting to try something a little different.

On what happens when it comes to working on a particular cookbook:

Takeaways may be the inspiration for what will later become a recipe draft I’m working on, but when developing recipes, I write a full recipe draft with all ingredients and quantities, step-by-step instructions, cooking times, etc. Some or many of these are, but that’s the purpose of recipe testing – to check, adjust as needed, and update.

There’s definitely research too – I’m always learning and improving through the process – and that’s a huge part of the fun of making recipes. I might look at six or eight versions of green sauce and related discussions about sauce, as a random example, from resources I trust.

The cookbooks I’ve written actually grew out of just a topic I genuinely gravitated toward, and—gosh, you know, I want you to have a reason to delve into more. I love the excuse of looking at old archives in the library, calling people and asking questions, looking up old magazine articles and the like. I really enjoy finding the background and context that leads to this thing we’ve come to love so much.

On her thinking behind the one-recipe model in “Oysters”:

Lobster and artichoke soup oozes traditional oyster soup, which often has little more than clams and milk and/or cream and butter. I chose to match my favorite ingredient, artichoke, with lobster in this simple, creamy soup. With just a few ingredients and a relatively quick preparation, I hope to convey a wide variety of options with oysters for quick, tasty and interesting recipes. Plus it’s a great showcase for homemade oyster stock, and I’m a huge proponent of making it to store in the freezer for occasions like these.

In the recipe testing process:

Well, each recipe should be tested at least twice, sometimes three, sometimes four or five – it depends on the degree of tweaking that has to happen. Here’s the nice part of the cookbook process: Make sure you run the recipes to the point where you feel confident they’ll be authoritative for the reader. Oh my gosh – you know, it takes months and months of time, and a lot of attention to detail. Yes, that is the gist of the project.

When there are friends who are also testing her recipes:

It’s helpful to get someone else’s eyes – and the kitchen and the ingredients – to run a recipe to make sure it can be followed, and to get feedback on an ingredient they might have had trouble finding, or (not) sure what that means – that description or whatever they might is being. I might not do it with every single recipe, but [it’s useful] With slightly more detailed recipes.

What kinds of things go wrong in the recipe testing process:

Oh my gosh, any number of things can go wrong (laughs) – or maybe not as intended in my head. Take something like a sauce that ends up being more liquid than I intended, so this technique needs to be put in place. Or, sure, the cooking times are adjusted. Or the size of the amount of ramekins for something you will get, so that it will serve the six people you think will serve. The logistics of a “9×13 frying pan is not really big enough” so either reduce the quantity or find a different frying pan. Definitely, the flavor profiles – the balance of ingredients can go down a bit. So everything comes out in the test. And sometimes the recipes aren’t very far away, other times it can be four or five big tests and tweaks along the way.

Whether she eats bugs:

Yes, overall it’s still good enough to enjoy.

On what you love about writing cookbooks:

I really like this creative process – to sit down and sort of dissect: How do I go from point A to B and end up with a recipe? And just the freedom to create things, come up with some new ideas and play around. And not everything will work out – there are certainly recipes that are not listed in the book.

I’ve really gone through everything – all the testing, all the rewriting, all the editing – hoping someone would read that cookbook in their kitchen, get those ingredients and have a great experience – and find the fun in it.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Cynthia nimes crab and chilled asparagus with green onion aioli

For such a simple presentation, with a couple of stellar ingredients, it’s a perfect time to splurge on shredded crab meat, if that’s an option. The flavor of aioli will be more developed if it is prepared an hour or two before serving, but served at its best the same day it is made; See note (at the bottom) for a brief alternative. – Cynthia Nimes

1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons of fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3/4 cup light olive oil
1/4 cup finely chopped green onions, white and light green parts (reserve the dark green top for serving)
1 1/2 teaspoons minced or pressed garlic
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
24 spears of asparagus, trimmed with hard tips
12 ounces of crab meat

1. To prepare the aioli, whisk the egg yolks, lemon juice, and mustard in a medium bowl. Start adding a few drops of oil at a time, whisking constantly until the yolk begins to turn pale and thicken slightly, which indicates that an emulsion has begun to form. Continue adding the remaining oil in a thin, steady stream, whisking constantly. Mix green onions, garlic and salt. Place the aioli in the refrigerator, covered, until ready to serve.

2. Fill a large deep saucepan or saucepan halfway with salted water, and bring the water to a boil over high heat. While the water is heating, prepare a large bowl of ice water. Add asparagus to the boiling water, reduce heat to medium, and simmer until evenly bright green and the tip of a paring knife meets a little resistance through the end of one of the largest spears, about two to three minutes. Use tongs to transfer the asparagus to the ice water, and allow it to cool completely. Transfer the cooled asparagus to a clean kitchen towel to drain.

3. Cut each spear of asparagus 5 to 6 inches long, keeping the bottom edge. Return the spears to the kitchen towel, wrap them in the towel, and refrigerate until ready to serve. Cut the cut ends into thin strips, and place them in a medium-sized bowl. Slice the reserved dark green onions into thin strips, and set them aside to use as a garnish.

4. Pick up the crab meat to remove any bits of the shell or cartilage, then gently squeeze the meat to remove excess liquid. Add crab to bowl with asparagus slices, and add 1/4 cup aioli. Stir the mixture evenly, without breaking up the crab pieces too much. There should be enough aioli to stick the crab and asparagus together; Add more if needed. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt if needed. Cover the bowl and place in the fridge for 30 minutes to cool down and let the flavors blend.

5. To serve, arrange the cooled asparagus sticks side by side in individual plates. Pour a mound of crab mixture in the center of each raft of asparagus, and scatter some scallion pieces over it. Serve immediately, passing additional aioli separately. Serves 4-6.

Note: To make a quick aioli, stir together scallions, garlic, and salt in ½ cup prepared mayonnaise. The flavor will be better if it is prepared a few hours in advance, covered and refrigerated. It won’t be as rich in flavor as homemade, but it’s a good alternative.

Excerpted from “Oysters: 50 Seafood Recipes for Shrimp, Crab, Mussels, Clams, Scallops, and Lobsters” Courtesy of Sasquatch Books. © 2022 by Cynthia Nimes.