Fish in Britain and Ireland
As a chef, the sense of excitement I feel when faced with a slab of fresh fish and seafood, be it in a market, the fishmonger or a trip to the seaside, never fades. I immediately kick in to creative overdrive. Rarely do I go with a recipe in mind; I prefer to see what has swum in that day, because you never know!
More than any other ingredient the availability of fish is fickle to time, tide, luck, risk and weather – ask any fisherman with a boat grounded for weeks because of bad weather. Fashion is always lowest on my list of choice, sustainability the highest.
There are fears for our seas and our fish stocks but dropping it from our diet also has effects for those who catch it. The fishing industry, vital to many communities throughout the British Isles has been in decline for many years. We the consumer can help slow this by eating more and a wider variety, thus taking the pressure off the endangered fish and supporting our fishermen. With at least 100 different varieties available in the UK – there is something to suit all tastes and pockets.Britain's Favorite Fish
The UK’s favorite fish is still Cod and accounts for 22% of total consumption. Although the North Sea cod stocks issue is a serious problem, Cod landed in the UK is caught within strict management regimes and quota systems setting safe limits for catches agreed by fishermen, scientists and government. Cod caught within these agreed limits is safe for consumers to eat.Cooking Fish
For the chef and home-cook fish offers endless opportunities for creativity whether grilled, poached, stir-fried, or baked. Deep-fried with fat golden chips is still one of the nation’s favorite meals - 11,500 fish and chip shops bear testament to this fact. It can be eaten raw, in soups, curried or served with pasta and for me, simply with fresh vegetables and a delicious sauce; there’s no end to its versatility. And it’s healthy.
Fish is good for every part of the body – from head to toe. We should eat at least two portions of fish every week, at least one of which should be oil-rich.
It is an important source of protein and the B group of vitamins , responsible for converting food to energy in cells and helping to build healthy nerve tissue. Consuming oil-rich fish provides an important source of vitamins A and D . In addition, oil-rich fish such as mackerel and herring contains Omega-3 fatty acids , a polyunsaturated fat that has a lowering effect on blood cholesterol levels. Omega-3 protects the heart and circulation and may lessen the risk of heart disease. Shellfish such as oysters, which contain noticeable levels of the mineral zinc , reputed to act as an aphrodisiac – so eating seafood may also be excellent for your love life.
To enjoy fish at home – make friends with your fishmonger. They are there to help and I have never met one who wouldn’t (how else will they ensure future trade?). Any fish or seafood you buy should be squeaky fresh and unsure if it is the simplest test is a quick sniff. It should never smell fishy but be an aroma of the sea. As this method isn’t popular with fishmongers also look for:-
- Whole fresh fish will have eyes that are bright and not sunken. The skin should have a shiny, moist, firm appearance.
- When buying fillets look out for neat, trim fillets and a white translucent appearance.
- Flesh should be firm to the touch, not soft or mushy.
- Fish should have no brown spots, which are an indication of the beginning of decay.
- Fish should give the appearance that it’s still alive but not wriggling of course.
- Shellfish, like lobster and crab, should be purchased either alive or frozen. If your market has a lobster tank, ask how long they’ve been in the tank. Truly fresh lobsters should be lively and frisky.
- Smoked fish should look glossy with a fresh smoky aroma.
- Select shellfish with shells tightly closed and without any gaps or cracks.
- Lobsters and crabs should be heavy for their size.
- With frozen seafood is must be solid with no signs of partial thawing, in undamaged packaging and with no sign of freezer burn.
And the secret of cooking fish?
Start to stop before you need to stop. Overcooking will quickly destroy the texture, taste and succulence of fish so always remove it from the heat when it is almost there; the residual heat will finish the cooking perfectly.
The convenience of cooking fillets is tempting but where possible buy and cook fish on the bone for the juiciest flesh, once cooked the bones will simply fall away.