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Hook & Barrel
A Lifestyle Magazine for Modern Outdoorsmen

valentine thomas goes spearfishing

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Get To Know Valentine Thomas—Spearfisher, Hunter & Great Chef

If something terrifying can happen to you in the water, it’s probably happened to Valentine Thomas.

Nearly drowning in an undercurrent off the coast of France? Sure. Getting surrounded by bull sharks with nothing but a spear gun to defend yourself? Check. A dive boat abandoning you six miles off the coast of Mexico? Been there, done that. Blacking out underwater? Oh, yes, done that one twice.

Despite her misadventures, Valentine Thomas remains undeterred. And after overcoming a crippling fear of the ocean stemming from that incident in France she’s become one of the most recognizable spear fishers in the world. Now, she chronicles her underwater adventures and culinary escapades on Instagram, providing inspiration and recipes to hundreds of thousands of followers.

valentine thomas

From Finance to Fishing

Life was not always tropical waters and colorful fish for Valentine Thomas. Born in Montreal, she moved to London to begin a career in finance. Though the UK might seem an unusual spot to discover the world of spearfishing, Thomas fell in with a group of enthusiasts, and after a handful of lessons she joined them on a freediving trip to Egypt. A few months later, she was on a plane to remote Ascension Island in the South Atlantic, a joint US-UK military base with one hotel and a lone dive tour operator.

“I was like, ‘Why am I here, what am I doing here?’” she recalls. “We were super far away from shore, massive waves, it was raining. And then I started diving. And I dove with my gun and managed to shoot my first fish and was like, ‘Oh, ok, this is cool.’”

Her first fish, a blackjack, was “disgusting,” but she ate it anyway out of pure excitement for the catch. Her friends caught better fish like tuna and wahoo, giving Thomas her first inkling that venturing into the undersea world could also yield some delicious results.

“It’s definitely the food that kept me in,” she says. “Spearfishing completely changed me as a person, night and day.”

It took a while for her love of spearfishing to take hold, but once it did she couldn’t keep herself out of the water.

valentine thomas goes spearfishing

“It was a learning curve for me because I was terrified of the ocean, but my spearfishing journey made me discover how beautiful it was and how amazing it was to dive,” she says. “On my first trip, I got to swim with a whale shark and then dolphins and sharks. There’s a lot of stuff happening, and then I was seeing a world that I knew nothing about.”

After enduring the dreary London rat race, Thomas found herself finally living again once she discovered the undersea world. She moved to the Bahamas and began embodying island life, spearfishing by day and cooking her catch by night.

“Everything (in London) was about, ‘Ok, I’m gonna make more money, I’m gonna get a bigger apartment.’ I used to be very anxious, I had a lot of panic attacks,” she says. “Then all of a sudden, I’m traveling the world, I’m catching my own food, I’m living in the middle of nowhere and having the time of my life.”

Fame Brings Haters & Joe Rogan

A few years into her new spearfishing life, Thomas was hired to do a documentary about the sport in South Africa. That was when she realized being in the water could be a paying career, not just a hobby. Around the same time, the Daily Mail got wind of what Thomas was doing and sent a journalist to report on this pioneering female spearfisher.

“I had a three-hour conversation with her, and at one point she asked me what it was to be a woman in this industry. And I said sometimes it was hard because you had to work double to prove yourself,” she says. “And that was the big headline, how, ‘Spear Woman gets backlash for being a girl.’”

The story went viral, and as it did the backlash predictably intensified.

“A lot of the fish I caught at first, people were like, ‘There’s no way she caught that,’” says Thomas. “Like, for sure a guy caught that and she just took a photo of it.”

As she sought to silence her critics, Thomas looked for places where she could amplify her voice. One friend suggested reaching out to one of the biggest voices in the outdoor world, Joe Rogan.

valentine thomas underwater

“I said, ‘I don’t know who that is,’” she admits. “So, I looked him up on Instagram and he was following me. I followed him back and said, ‘Hey, if  you ever wanna talk about spearfishing on your podcast again…’”

Two months later Rogan responded, inviting her onto the program. Rogan told her a lot of people around him were skeptical of her appearing on his podcast, labeling her a “fishing bimbo” and assuming she didn’t know how to fish.

“I was like, ‘I’m a bit insulted but thanks?” That was definitely a thanks with a question mark if I’ve ever had one,” she says.

Underwater Hunting

After her Rogan appearance, Thomas’ audience skyrocketed, and she’s run with it, using her explosive popularity to educate the world about spearfishing and its role in sustainability.

“Spearfishing is not fishing, it’s underwater hunting,” she says. “And the thing that freediving brings you is that for a couple of minutes, you are becoming part of the ocean, part of that ecosystem. So, it’s really about knowing your place and respecting what’s around you.”

The bottom line, she says, is that people need to eat more seafood and understand more about what they’re buying. So, she’s also taking time to educate consumers about seafood, addressing misconceptions they may have about everything from mercury content to sustainable farming.

“There’s mercury in fish, sure, but unless you’re eating swordfish four times a week the chances of you getting poisoning are pretty slim,” she advises. “Things you catch recreationally, aside from swordfish in Florida, it’s going to be hard to get mercury poisoning.”

valentine thomas

She also says that the stigma around farmed fish stems mostly from less-regulated farms in South America and Asia and that the vast majority of farmed fish from the U.S. is perfectly clean and safe.

“Buy American,” she says. “If you buy from the States it’s gonna be good, 99.9 percent of seafood from America is gonna be sustainable. The U.S. is the most sustainable country in the world when it comes to seafood and managing their coast.” 

Field To Table

Valentine Thomas is also a big fan of above-water hunting, spending some of the winter months in Colorado and other mountain states hunting deer and elk. She recently posted a video of herself demonstrating ways to cook a deer heart, which she says earned her a shadow ban from Instagram. This, she says, is why she hasn’t extended her sphere of influence from spearfishing to hunting.

“The vast population isn’t ready to hear about hunting now,” she says, “It’s still seen as something horrible to do. It just blows my mind because no one will care more about their meat than people who hunt it. That’s just the reality.”

And while her recipes for deer heart might be a little too hot for prime time right now, she’s become a master of seafood dishes. Last year she published her first cookbook, Good Catch: A Guide To Sustainable Fish and Seafood With Recipes From the World’s Oceans, chock full of interesting ways to prepare your catch from around the globe. Valentine Thomas has such an extensive collection of recipes because she’s so varied in her own diet.

“I never cook the same thing twice. So, every time I eat, I’m eating something I’ve never had before,” she says. “There’s just so many flavor combinations, and I just decided to enroll in culinary school online, so I’m sure there’ll be even more flavor stuff.”

valentine thomas

For now, Valentine Thomas, who was pregnant at the time of our interview, is scaling back her globetrotting a little, taking time off, and enjoying her new home state of Texas. She’s still working up new recipes and showing the world of social media that pregnancy is no barrier to spearfishing. But between finance, food, and social media fame, she’s still got plenty on her plate.

“I would say I’m a well-rounded chef,” she muses. “But also, a well-rounded sportswoman.” 

3 “Good Catch” Valentine Thomas Recipes To Enjoy

sushi board recipe

Messy Sushi Board Recipe

Ingredients

• 2 cups of sushi rice

• Splash of rice vinegar

• Firm fish (any of them you like)

• Red onions, thinly sliced

• Cucumber, thinly sliced 

• 1 Tbsp of sesame seeds

• Zest of an orange

• Cilantro

• Paprika 

• Garlic Salt

• 2 Tbsp of Yuzu (if you can’t find it, fresh lime juice will do)

• Nori sheets for serving

*Ideas of fun ingredients to add to this dish: pineapple or mango, diced bell peppers, green onions, pomegranate seeds, and jalapenos.

 **You can find Yuzu in sushi shops and Japanese grocery stores.

The Sauce

• 3 Tbsp of Yuzu (if you can’t find it, use the same amount of lime juice)

• 3 Tbsp of soya sauce

• Juice of half of a lime

• Use either as a dipping sauce or pour it directly on the board.

The Board

• Cook the sushi rice per the instructions on the package (or even easier with a rice cooker).

• When the rice is cooked, add a splash of rice vinegar to it and stir.

• Spread on a board (I like using a chopping board for presentation). 

• While the rice is cooling, make slices of about ¼ cm with your fish.

• Place the fish on the rice when it has cooled down and add all the ingredients you are using on top.

• Top off with the sesame seeds, orange zest, paprika, and garlic salt. 

• Serve with the Nori chips on the side.

Buttermilk Fried Fish & Pancakes With Jalapeño Honey

Buttermilk Fried Fish & Pancakes With Jalapeño Honey

(serves 4)

Ingredients For the Jalapeño Honey 

• 1 cup honey 

• 1 jalapeño, stemmed, seeded, thinly sliced 

Ingredients For the Pancakes 

• 1½ cups all-purpose flour, sifted 

• 3½ tsp baking powder 

• ½ tsp kosher salt 

• 1 Tbsp granulated sugar 

• 1¼ cups milk 

• 2 large eggs 

• 3 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted 

• 2 Tbsp canola oil 

Ingredients For the Buttermilk Fried Fish 

• 2 cups buttermilk 

• 1 cup all-purpose flour 

• 1 tsp baking powder 

• 2 tsp kosher salt 

• 1 tsp ground cumin 

• 1 tsp onion powder 

• 1 tsp garlic powder 

• 1 tsp ground black pepper 

• 1 cup canola oil 

• 4 thick, firm white fish fillets, such as halibut, halved crosswise 

Directions

• Make the jalapeño honey:  Place the honey and sliced jalapeño in a saucepan set over medium-high heat. Stir to combine and let the honey come to a boil. Once the honey starts to boil, reduce the heat to a very low simmer and let the honey simmer for about 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.

• Preheat the oven to 200°F. 

• Make the pancakes:  In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, milk, eggs and butter. Whisk until just combined. (Make sure not to overmix the batter; there should be small lumps.) 

• Heat a large skillet over medium heat, then add the oil to the skillet. Once the skillet is hot and the oil is shimmering, add ¼ cup portions of the batter to the pan, being careful not to overcrowd the pan. Cook on each side for about 3 minutes, or until golden brown and cooked through. Repeat with the remaining batter. Transfer the pancakes to a baking sheet and keep them warm in the oven while you fry the fish. 

• Prepare the fish:  In a large, wide metal bowl, combine the buttermilk, flour, baking powder, salt, cumin, onion powder, garlic powder and black pepper. Whisk all the ingredients together until the batter is smooth. 

• In a large cast-iron skillet set over medium-high, heat the oil to 350°F. (If you don’t have a thermometer, look to the point when the oil has just barely started to smoke.) Once the oil is to temp, reduce the heat to medium-high, dredge 1 fish fillet in the batter so that it is fully coated, and transfer the fillet to the hot oil. Fry on each side until golden brown and cooked through, about 3 minutes per side, 5 to 6 minutes total. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate and repeat with the remaining fillets. 

• To serve, divide the pancakes among 4 plates, then top each with a fried fish fillet and drizzle with the warm jalapeño honey.

Animal Heart Steak Salad

Turf Time! Heart Steak Salad

Marinade

• 1 Nilgai, beef, yak, chicken, or venison heart, sliced in ½-inch slices

• ¼ tsp ground coriander

• 1/8 tsp ground white pepper

• ¼ tsp fennel seed

• ¼ tsp fenugreek

• 1 Tbsp olive oil

• ½ lemon, squeezed

• 1-2 garlic cloves, crushed

Salad

• Arugula salad

• 1 endive

• 1 baby cucumber, sliced

• ½ can of hearts of palm, chopped

• A handful of feta cheese

• 1 tablespoon fresh parsley, roughly chopped 

• ¾ cup cooked quinoa

Dressing

• 1 tsp Dijon mustard

• 1 Tbsp soy sauce

• 2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

• 1 Tbsp nutritional yeast (optional, but it’s insanely good)

• 2 Tbsp olive oil

Method

• Mix all the marinade ingredients and place in the fridge for 2-24 hours.

• Preheat your BBQ at high temperature.

• Make the dressing by mixing all the ingredients in a small bowl.

• Make your salad by adding all the ingredients in a medium bowl.

• Grill the slices of heart until medium (overcooking them will make them tougher!).

• Top the salad with the heart slices and the dressing.

• Serve immediately. 

Editor’s note: Recipes reprinted with permission from Good Catch: A Guide to Sustainable Fish and Seafood with Recipes from the World’s Oceans by © 2023 Valentine Thomas. Published by Union Square & Co.

Kimi Werner: Speargun Hunter
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