1525 A seafood lover’s pantry
Off the Hook: The Essential West Coast Seafood Recipes
by D.L. Acken and Aurelia Louvet
Victoria: Touchwood Editions, 2018
$22.00 / 9781771512763
Reviewed by Gillian Crowther
Off The Hook: The Essential West Coast Seafood Recipes is the perfect description of this little gem of a book. It does, however, put you on the hook to cook fish and shellfish meals through all seasons. With the tempting photographs, descriptions, straightforward recipes, and practical advice, the hooked cook is not left dangling, adrift in a sea of indecision; and Off the Hook provides a compass-like guide to find culinary direction. Whether the cooking of seafood is approached from purchased fresh fish to suitable recipe, or from recipe to sourcing appropriate fish, there will be a meeting of fish with flavours to please any hungry appetite.
In both instances, with recipe book in hand, cooking will be guided by the cook’s experience, visiting old favourites – Chowder, Cioppino, English-Style Beer-Battered Lingcod, and delving into accessible, innovative, but familiar flavours — tomato turmeric marinade, mojito-glaze, smoky chipotle, harissa, and sriracha, indicative of locally understood global flavours. Off the Hook makes local seafood approachable, simple, tempting, and very much a culinary staple of the West Coast.
Flavours are a crucial aspect of this cookbook’s appeal. From subtle to spicy, each recipe builds tastes and textures to showcase the fish and shellfish species’ characteristics. The resulting dishes reflect diverse local marine life and culinary influences – with nods to Indigenous Peoples and successive immigrant ethnic groups in British Columbia, creating a snapshot of contemporary West Coast cooking and eating.
Opening this culinary portrait, Off the Hook, itemizes a seafood lover’s pantry. Here is everything you need at hand to make the recipes, and then to creatively adapt them through time. The book ends with classic seafood accompaniments – Tartar, Cocktail, Hollandaise Sauces, Aioli, and Rémoulade, amongst others. Throughout, this is a very hands-on cookbook, literally, in its scale – small, hand-sized, and tactile, and its logical organization of species.
Flip through the pages to find finned fish – salmon, tuna, halibut, sablefish, cod, rockfish and smelt, and on into crustacea – shrimp, prawns, and crab, and finally molluscs – mussels, oysters, and clams. You can easily get your hands on these species through specialist fish shops, and many supermarkets, where helpful vendors should also be able to offer advice.
Accompanying each section are descriptions of the species, notes on sustainable fisheries, and the importance of fresh, local, choices. This background includes pairing suggestions and extra practical tips, such as pin bone removal, crab cleaning, oyster shucking, and debearding mussels. Each seafood section begins with an introduction and overview pages laying out all the recipes, helping to refine one’s choices with an easy glance and page reference. The nautical themes of blues, twisted rope designs, fish drawings, and photographs of foods, places, and the textures of beach shorelines, buoys, fish scales, and driftwood, tie the package together and contribute to Off the Hook’s sensory appeal.
As the authors explain, Off the Hook recipes are “everyday, easy, and accessible… adaptable to suit all palates,” and representative of “the flavours that surround us … the best of what’s available here in our home waters” (p. 9). This is an accurate depiction of the recipes you will become hooked on, domesticated to suit to all range of meals – breakfast choices include Crab and Avocado Seafood Benedict, lunch may be a Nouveau Niçoise Salad, or a West Coast Shrimp Roll that riffs off the East Coast lobster roll, and appetizers of Smoked Salmon Devilled Eggs, Sweet and Sour Shrimp Balls, or Tuna Tartare, and a host of simple to fancier entrees such as West Coast Fish Pie, Miso Ginger Glazed Sablefish, Easy Seafood Paella to Brown Butter Scallops with Parmesan Risotto.
The range of recipes reflects the backgrounds of the authors – a West Coast childhood, a French upbringing — and global travels for both, and both eventually call Salt Spring Island home. Acken and Louvet’s combined experiences, culinary imaginations, skills, food-styling and photography have culminated in a classic book of seafood recipes that no West Coast home should be without.
This reader fell hook, line, and sinker for this little but full cookbook. Its recipes, insights, and sense of West Coast culinary style will become the source of family favourites, offering tastes of our locality, cooked and plated with ease, to be shared with relish by those lucky enough to sit down to dine.
Gillian Crowther teaches social anthropology at Capilano University, North Vancouver. She is the author of Eating Culture: An Anthropological Guide to Food (University of Toronto Press, 2013; second edition, 2018). Editor’s note: Gillian Crowther has also reviewed books by David Robertson, Ned Bell & Valerie Howes, Willoughby Arevalo and gid7ahl-gudsllaay lalaxaaygans (Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson) for The British Columbia Review.
The British Columbia Review
Publisher and Editor: Richard Mackie
Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an on-line journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Cole Harris, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies.
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