Books on the subject of fish and seafood have been plentiful over the years. I know - I own a fair few of them. But it's a subject that I love and still find fascinating, and the Emsworth fishermen have made sure of this with their brilliant produce and great stories.
Most of my recent book buys have involved beautiful glossy shots and overindulgent recipes that, once they were read, have seen little daylight. So, bring on Alan Davidson's new edition of North Atlantic Seafood - a top-rate reference book for everything that's edible in the Northern Atlantic.
The original book was published in 1979 to rave reviews, and won most major book awards for its type of publication that year. The new edition for 2003 retains all the original content and format, but has been updated for scientific information. Corrections have also been added to the original text as well as cleaner, crisper drawings for some species. However, they are still black-and-white line drawings: this feels right as it helps the book retain its 1970s authenticity and originality.
Very soon after turning the first few pages, you're hit by the fact that this man, Davidson, knows and loves his subject. He has a passion - and I mean a real passion - for fish, and wants you to know everything. Any detail he can give you will be in an articulate and clean fashion. For example, species are catalogued in a scientific order. Great!
Then he explains the catalogues. Believe me, even that is interesting.
A large chunk of information is dedicated to each fish, crustacean or mollusc. Information includes the Latin name for each species, at least 10 alternative name translations, size, colouring and appearance, characteristics, feeding and eating habits. Even migration swims are given attention. Snippets of history and great playful anecdotes give a refreshing angle.
Under the heading "cuisine", Davidson also gives quick tips on best preparation and cooking methods for each fish and, in some cases, a recipe as well.
To make use of all the knowledge that Davidson gives you, there are also recipes garnered from around 22 countries bordering the North Atlantic. Most of them are for traditional dishes. They are well written with simple, lucid instructions and take up a third of the last part of the book - a large chapter which locks in well with all that goes before it.
North Atlantic Seafood is a very good book. It's useful not just for the professional chef but for students and for anyone interested in seafood as well. It's very easy to read and Davidson's meticulous research (shown in the vast acknowledgement pages) and knowledge is always apparent. I liked the inclusion of his travelling experiences and the way he pointed out how the fish cuisine of both sides of the North Atlantic are linked through travel and history. If you love fish, you'll buy this book.
Ramon Farthing is chef-proprietor of 36 on the Quay, Emsworth, Hampshire
North Atlantic Seafood
Prospect Books, £17.99