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May 31, 2018 12:20 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Citarella Owner Joe Gurrera Takes The Intimidation Out Of Preparing Seafood In His Debut Cookbook

Customers enjoyed watching chef Joe Gurerra's presentation and asking him questions about the recipe.  JULIA HALSEY
Jun 3, 2018 3:51 PM

There are few chefs who know seafood quite like Citarella owner Joe Gurrera.

As a teenager, Mr. Gurrera was responsible for helping out at his family’s fish shop in Greenwich Village, where he quickly learned the distinctions between the flavors and textures of dozens of types of fish. It wasn’t long before this job segued into a lifelong passion that helped him turn a small seafood shop in Manhattan into the powerhouse that Citarella is today.

More than 30 years later, Mr. Gurrera still holds the seafood sold at Citarella’s eight locations in Manhattan, the Hamptons and Connecticut to the same standard he did when he opened the first shop on the Upper West Side in 1983. The gourmet grocer earned his reputation by promising high quality and fresh ingredients to its nearly 5 million customers served annually, and Mr. Gurrera can be seen keeping this promise at the New Fulton Fish Market in the Bronx before the sun rises, picking out the first catch of the day long before others are even awake.

After spending more than three decades building a business from scratch, it comes as no surprise that Mr. Gurrera hasn’t had much time for many other projects—until now. Over the past year and a half, the fishmonger was finally able to finish something he’s been wanting to for years: his first cookbook.

“I was going to do it 15 years ago, but I was too busy building a business,” Mr. Gurrera laughed in between chatting with customers and hand-juicing fresh limes for a demonstration of his beloved ceviche recipe in Citarella’s Bridgehampton location.

Mr. Guerrera’s extensive cookbook is not only a recipe repertoire, but also an informative guide and instruction manual designed for the seafood-wary chef.

“All my friends always ask me questions about seafood because everyone is intimidated by it,” he said, commenting on the cookbook, aptly-titled “Joe Knows Fish: Taking the Intimidation Out of Cooking Seafood.” “The book is very informative and also diverse; there are 10 different chapters on cooking seafood simply in all different ways, whether it’s broiling, grilling, baking, sautéing, frying or steaming.”

Citarella customers watched in wonder as Mr. Gurrera effortlessly diced up half a pound of raw sea scallops, shrimp and bass right before their eyes. Added to a bowl of ripened plum tomatoes, jalapeño peppers and cilantro leaves, the result was a colorful representation of the Latin American dish that is prepared fresh daily and sold on the shelves of Citarella. This was Mr. Gurrera’s second demonstration of the day, following one in East Hampton and before one in Southampton. Appearances like this are not uncommon for the owner, who loves sharing his knowledge of seafood with anyone who will listen. “I’m always hands-on,” he said, his sleeves rolled up to his elbows and covered in marinade as he mixed the ceviche ingredients by hand.

Mr. Gurerra wrote his premier cookbook with Rebecca Miller Ffrench, a New York City- and Catskills-based author who has written several cookbooks including “Whole Protein Vegetarian,” her most recent. A recipe developer herself, Ms. Ffrench said she was surprised at the simplicity of Mr. Gurrera’s recipes, and how he practices the notion that a little goes a long way when it comes to flavor.

“When I first started working with him, when he was telling me about the recipes, everything was really just salt, pepper and a little bit of olive oil. I thought, what kind of recipe is that?” Ms. Ffrench laughed. “These recipes are about truly tasting the fish—it’s not about putting on a ton of lemon and heavy sauce. You really want the freshest, best quality of fish for these recipes because that’s when you’re really going to taste the fish.”

Mr. Gurrera’s passion lies in his dedication to setting the highest standard for a seafood market, and Ms. Ffrench says this speaks to the success of Citarella, which sells 2 million pounds of seafood every year.

She and Mr. Gurrera recommend this cookbook for chefs of all skill levels who are eager to learn how to prepare seafood in an approachable, practical way.

“It’s really a book for beginners to really learn about the different types of fish, different textures, and what flavors they like,” Ms. Ffrench said. “They’re just really simple recipes that people can easily execute, and it just makes dinner a pleasure. You can come here, get the ingredients, go home and you’re done.”

Joe Gurrera will appear for a book signing of “Joe Knows Fish: Taking the Intimidation Out of Cooking Seafood” at BookHampton in East Hampton on Thursday, July 12, at 5 p.m. For more information and to purchase a copy, call 631-324-4939 or visit bookhampton.com.

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