First, my qualifications for this review: I write about food for a living, and I'm married to a dedicated (some would say obsessed) cook who happens to be a pescatarian (no feet, no feathers, no fur, but claws and fins are fine). So we know and like food, we revere good food writing, and we especially appreciate recipes that deliver on their promises of desirable results.
Because we share this planet with 6 billion or so other folk who get every bit as hungry as we do, we're also very cognizant of what's sustainable and what's not. Especially food from the sea. For us, that means no Chilean sea bass, no farmed salmon, no Southeast Asian prawns. This is no hardship. If our salmon were any wilder, it would be in rehab. Silky, unctuous sable fish (formerly known as black cod, before it got dressed up and went out for dinner), sweet, tender spot prawns, fat, juicy mussels and clams form the backbone of our diet. The Oceanwise Cookbook, compiled by editor Jane Mundy in collaboration the Vancouver Aquarium, contains recipes for these and more, all sustainably harvested fish and seafood, culled from Canada's finest chefs. The West Coast, Mundy's home base, is, of course richly represented, but there are also enticing contributions from Alberta, Ontario, Nova Scotia, PEI, and even Saskatchewan, a province not usually noted for its marine life.(Fresh water pickerel with pistachio butter sauce, anyone?)
Just attaching a chef's name to a recipe is no guarantee that it will work, or even be edible. Scaling down a recipe meant to feed 40 so that it's doable for four, or six is no easy feat. And that's where a good editor comes into play. Kudos, then, to Mundy, who managed the unmanageable - translating the visions of scores of professional chefs into something achievable by a moderately skilled home cook. The recipes range from the imaginative - spicy, rich Congolaise mussel soup - to down-home beer-battered cod - to the out and out decadent mac and cheese with lobster. Even canned fish gets the respect it deserves in a chapter devoted to that subject. Sardines, for instance, get glammed up in Barbara Jo McIntosh's sardine and potato pancakes with lemon and chive mayonnaise. We haven't tested all 140 recipes, and probably won't, but the half-dozen or so we have prepared have all been resounding successes.
But this is more than just another cookbook. It's also an encyclopedic reference work. There are short essays that define what "sustainable" really means in terms of marine life, how to prepare some of the odder specimens such as geoduck, or how to harvest sea urchins. There are suggested wine and beer pairings for each recipe. Charts listing happy marriages of herbs and spices for the various fishes. Recipes for sauces and stocks you might want to have on hand.
Finally, this book is lavishly illustrated with full color photography that will only make you hungry for more. It's a beautiful, useful, and valuable book. And that's as good as it gets, at least in our kitchen.