Valentine Thomas was floating peacefully 170 feet below the ocean’s surface, imagining the meal she would make with the snapper she’d just speared, when that daydream was suddenly cut short by reality: a 10-foot tiger shark gliding toward her. As a free diver, she had no oxygen tank, so panic wasn’t an option. She steadied her nerves, poised her spear at the shark and, after it had passed her by, headed up for air. Once calmed, she took a deep breath for one last dive before heading to shore to grill her single catch of the day.
That scene opens her first cookbook, “Good Catch: A Guide to Sustainable Fish and Seafood with Recipes from the World’s Oceans” (Union Square, $35). Thomas goes on to tell how she took up one of the world’s most dangerous sports — spearfishing — to confront her greatest fears, the water chief among them. One dive and she was hooked. So much so that she left the law career she’d practiced in her native Canada and later in London to travel the world diving for dinner, advocating for aquatic justice, and accumulating hordes of Instagram followers along the way.
If the stories and accompanying underwater photos of heart-thumping adventures in shark-infested waters don’t convince you to don a wetsuit, her recipes — sumptuously portrayed by Atlanta photographer Andrew Thomas Lee and prop stylist Thom Driver — might tempt you to push your limits in the kitchen. Each reflects the flavors of the far-flung regions where the star ingredients were caught: Jerk Cobia with Baked Sweet Potatoes (South Africa), Snapper Panzanella with Grapefruit (California), Lobster Bisque (New Caledonia), Cajun Fried Catfish on Jalapeno Cornbread (Louisiana), Maple-Steamed Whole Trout on a Wet Log (Quebec).
Detailed instructions are outlined and illustrated for sourcing, storing and preparing every type of seafood — fresh, frozen or tinned.
And given her sustainability ethos, no part of the fish goes to waste. That includes eyes, sockets and all, which she pickles in tarragon-infused vinegar to serve on a Scandinavian smorgasbord. She describes them as “little salty, caper-like sprinkles.”
For now, I’ll take her word for it.
Susan Puckett is a cookbook author and former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow her at susanpuckett.com.
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