Fish Forever: The Definitive Guide to Understanding, Selecting, and Preparing Healthy, Delicious, and Environmentally Sustainable Seafood
As I began writing this review I struggled with a creative and comprehensive way to sum up the book in one statement. Then I looked at the cover for inspiration and there it was.. "Fish Forever," it says right there, is the "definitive guide to understanding, selecting, and preparing healthy, delicious, and environmentally sustainable seafood". I couldn't have said it better myself.
It's not often that cover language is more than mere puffery. But this time it's true. That slug line really does describe the book.
Author Paul Johnson, founder of Monterey Fish Market, and seafood supplier to many top chefs (including Alice Waters, Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud and Alain Ducasse, just to name a few) also is the coauthor of "The California Seafood Cookbook," and sits on the advisory board of the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch Program. . Thus, it is safe to say that he's more than qualified to write this book no small thing in a field where you often find yourself wondering about an author's credentials.
The author's introduction is about the history of seafood and how the public's view of seafood has changed over the years, some for the better, some for the worse. But he quickly dispels rumors or myths and discusses how you can shop and eat responsibly. He then moves into a little history about himself and his businesses and how they came to be.
Once past the intro, the book really becomes a complete guide. He discusses, in depth, how to select, store and cook seafood---along the way providing many tips that only someone intimately involved in the business could know. For instance, I was, for good reason, drawn to the page discussing seafood and pregnant or nursing women. When I received this book my wife was pregnant. As I write the review, she is nursing. Johnson provides us with easy-to-understand lists of what to avoid as well as what to choose.
I also found his chart of seafood seasons to be very helpful, providing clear information on when to buy what.
From there we move into the recipes. This part of the book was bittersweet to me. I enjoyed the fact that I can use this book to find recipes that I know are responsibly prepared. Also, each main ingredient had an introduction to the fish or shellfish and gave advice on it, which was helpful in many cases. In total, the author covers 52 different species of seafood. One drawback to having 52 species covered is keeping the book less than say, 1,000 pages. As it is, it's 438 from cover to cover.
As I worked my way through the book I found many of the recipes not particularly interesting, and again, because 52 species are covered, many only have only one recipe included. When you try and cover an entire field, superficiality is almost built in and so it is with this book.
Another drawback is that many of these fish are probably very tough to find in places like Kansas City or Omaha. I have lived in Seattle and currently live near San Francisco, so a book like this is great for someone with the ability to take advantage of all the species covered. The further inland one is, the more frustrating it's likely to be finding some of the fish. However, the information he provides about the more common species, like salmon, halibut, shrimp and tuna is very helpful when it comes to selecting the right product.
I decided to try his crab cakes. After all, everyone loves crab cakes, and crab is readily available throughout the country. So it would be a good way to check his approach.
I shouldn't have been disappointed, because Johnson warns ahead of time not to expect the traditional taste.
"Chesapeake Bay crab cake purists will scoff at the amount of bread crumbs I use," he notes, "saying crab cakes should be 99% crabmeat, but I find that fresh bread crumbs make a light, tender and flavorful crab cake." And I think he is right on. They did make a lighter crab cake but I find my taste siding with the "purists".
On the other hand, his Charcoal Grilled Wild King Salmon with Cherry Tomato Basil Relish is a perfect example of how the quality of food makes or breaks a recipe. The ingredients were salmon, sea salt, olive oil, cherry tomatoes, garlic, balsamic vinegar and basil. I bought the freshest King Salmon I could find, used sea salt I picked up in Northern France on a trip last year, high quality olive oil, 10 year old balsamic a friend brought back from Italy and tomatoes and basil right out of my backyard. Let me tell you, that is the way food is supposed to taste!
After the recipes the author includes a "Health Appendix" that discusses the health benefits of seafood, including a great chart on omega-3 content. He also discusses the downside of seafood, including mercury levels, raw foods, and common seafood related food illnesses The author ends the book with a "Fishing and Aquaculture Methods Appendix". This section discusses how seafood is caught or raised and the benefits and determents of these techniques.
Overall I definitely recommend this book. You may or may not have an interest in environmentally sustainable seafood---which is what the book is really about--- but the information presented should be read by anyone who eats seafood. I do not suggest this book if you are looking for a seafood recipe book. There are better choices for that. But I do not think a recipe book is what the author intended. As the book states on the cover, it is a guide. This is a great book to reference which seafood species are the best choices for adapting to your own recipes or combining with recipes in other cookbooks. In the end I don't think the author will be bothered if you choose not to use his recipes, as long as you understand and apply his message.