Book Review: “Seafood” by Johanna Harlen

Review by Marie-Hélène Fasquel for Readers’ Favorite (5 stars)

Seafood by Johanna Harlen is a fabulous recipe book. Beautifully illustrated, it shares a love of art, not only a love of food. It is comprehensive and starts perfectly for beginners with a mayonnaise recipe. The author manages to mix various types of guide books into one: personal development, recipe, and a travel book as it makes you travel to the beach and taste exotic food. This cookbook shares the love of cooking and eating with French people and that is probably why I was delighted to discover it.
Seafood by Johanna Harlen is a gem of a cookbook. I will definitely treasure it. I appreciated Johanna’s introduction to seafood and sustainability, as well as her heart-warming dedication to a Mexican chef. Her text is relatable and personal, which is essential in our world in crisis. This is not just another recipe book. It is a guide that will help you ponder and reflect about life generally speaking as well as about what we eat. It is also all about humanity, enjoying food together, and love too (as Johanna Harlen’s son is a chef). My favorite recipes are the “West Indies Fish Stew”, “Paratha”, and “Blackened Mahi Tacos”. I love that this book caters to all the needs of beginner cooks but also experienced ones. It explores basic sauces for instance and easy-to-make meals. It includes all types of dishes: main meals, sandwiches, desserts, and so much more. Thank you, Johanna, for this amazing book and for the different variations on the basic recipes you offer. I warmly recommend this guide.

Review by Asher Syed for Readers’ Favorite (5 stars)

Seafood by Johanna Harlen is a full-color cookbook that zeroes in on the delights of the sea, complete with crisp and glossy photography by both the author and her son, Chef Craig. The cookbook begins with an overview of Harlen’s inspiration and how the composition came to be. Readers and aspiring seafood home chefs are then given a spectacularly detailed recipe collection that is broken down into several parts and includes items most might not anticipate in a seafood cookbook, such as cocktails, alongside a bounty of dishes as wide-ranging as the sea itself. These include recipes such as conch fritters and fish pies, lemon coconut squares, and mojitos.
I feel like I hit the cookbook lottery with Seafood by Johanna Harlen for a couple of reasons. The first is that I live in the British Isles and seafood is not only one of the most plentiful proteins available but also because I am South Asian and was wonderfully surprised to find dishes that tasted like home to me. The first thing I made, before I’d even gone through Seafood in its entirety, was Paratha. For those who do not know, it is a pastry-like flaky ‘tortilla’ that we use as a ‘scooper’, as my wife likes to say. The recipe is simple but the execution has always eluded me, and Harlen made my heart and belly happy when I finally made my first homemade Paratha! Another we quickly whipped up was the Mauritian fish samosas, perfectly seasoned exactly as the recipe called for and so good that we made them two nights in a row. The recipes are perfect. The writing is exceptional. The photography is smart and, overall, this is a cookbook worthy of pride of place on any countertop.

Review by Melinda Facal for Readers’ Favorite (5 stars)

Seafood by Johanna Harlen is a joyous celebration of food from the sea and shares the various and delicious ways that it can be prepared. Stunning and vibrant photographs taken by the author and her son accompany each recipe. Along with seafood, there are recipes for different kinds of bread, cocktails, desserts, sandwiches, and more. There is something for every cook from a delightfully simple recipe for homemade mayonnaise to instructions on how to cook an entire octopus. The author’s passion for food and creativity as a chef is evident in these pages. Harlen shows how a routine tuna fish sandwich can be elevated by serving it on homemade rolls. The author shares how food can evoke memories and how it keeps her connected to her mother while they are geographically separated.
Johanna Harlen’s Seafood is a beautiful cookbook filled with many delectable recipes. Readers will enjoy flipping through the pages of this cookbook and will be inspired to create by the plentiful recipes and gorgeous photography. This delightful cookbook is a feast for the senses. The recipes are presented in a clear and easy-to-follow format which novice cooks will especially appreciate. Cooks in search of new recipes will be very pleased to find this collection as it offers many diverse recipes such as fried avocado and deconstructed key lime pie. After reading this bountiful collection, fans of seafood will be craving many of these meals. This is a highly recommended cookbook that is sure to delight and inspire.

Review by Emily-Jane Hills Orford for Readers’ Favorite (5 stars)

Cedar planked salmon with minced ginger, garlic, and maple syrup – among other things. I’ve made variations of salmon with maple syrup and I want to try this concoction. These mouth-watering recipes are to be found in Seafood by Johanna Harlen. There are many more to tempt my seafood-hungry taste buds. Like Celery Root and Apple Salad with smoked salmon, a refreshing salad combing three of my favorite ingredients: celery root, apples, and smoked salmon. And then there are the side dishes and foods that go well with different seafood main courses. Don’t forget the dessert! A great meal needs a sweet grand finale, one that entices the taste buds as much as the seafood entrées that preceded it. Like Key Lime Pie, or better yet, Coconut Lime Pie, and a tongue cleanser like Vanilla Bean Ice Cream always fits the bill. Then, there are the stories about the food being served. After all, where there is good food, there is bound to be a good story and a classic chef who deserves his or her ode to commemorate his or her special creations.
Johanna Harlen’s cookbook, Seafood, is a delectable treat in itself. With a fascinating introduction to lead the reader into the contents, the author unveils a wide selection of culinary delights, all featuring seafood or foods that complement seafood. The book is well organized, beginning with individual sections on the different types of seafood, followed by a section on sandwiches and wraps, side dishes, desserts, and cocktails. Each recipe is clearly presented and easy to follow, complete with some side suggestions and sometimes a bit of background on the recipe. Each recipe also includes a stunning photograph of how the finished dish should appear (though I’m not sure I can live up to the photographs, they certainly add their tempting flair to the presentation). One of the key elements that met with my approval was the author’s dedication which aboriginals around the world have promoted in the very essence of how they live: “To the rapidly declining bounty of the ocean. May we always remember to keep it sustainable and to show respect for the way we eat.” This is an enticingly beautiful book in so many ways.

Reviewed by Jamie Michele for Readers’ Favorite (5 stars)

Seafood by Johanna Harlen is a cookbook and photographic food journal about food from the ocean. Harlen explains the backstory of her start-and-stop writing method during the COVID-19 pandemic and those who contributed by way of photography or inspiration, like her son Craig who is a pastry chef in Tel Aviv, and a chef and bartender in Cancún named Azael Flores, who served as the Kentucky resident Harlen’s muse. There are eight recipe chapters: Fish, Crustaceans, Molluscs, Cephalopod, Sandwiches and Wraps, Great Sides, Tropical Desserts, and Tropical Cocktails. Whether a reader is in the mood for Fire Roasted Snapper with Tortillas, African Fish Pancakes with Caviar, a sweet Strawberry Coconut Semi-Freddo, or a refreshing Hawaiian Honeybee cocktail, Harlen has the directions to make them happen with clarity and ease.

Seafood is a perfect cookbook for me as a long-time pescatarian who is easily bored and frequently out of ideas. The internet has a huge wealth of information but I’ve found the best recipes come directly from a good old-fashioned cookbook. Johanna Harlen is a talented photographer and I think the true value of food photography is sometimes lost in the world of social media. Included in all of the recipes, and there are so many, is the Shrimp and Grits with Garlic Bread. I moved from the United States to Europe over a decade ago and some dishes remind me of home with grits being quintessentially American, originating from First Nation/Native American cuisine and eventually becoming a Southern staple. Cajun seasoning is difficult to come by here so a spice mix recipe would have been helpful, but given the volume of recipes included I’m not sure there’d be much space. Highly recommended.

Author’s Note: After I received this review, I created the Cajun seasoning recipe. It is found in the Afterword of the book. Click on the link in the bookstore to purchase from Amazon.

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