Britain imports about 70% of the fish we eat; we export around 70% of the fish we catch. By a considerable margin, the species in particular that take our fancy are cod, haddock, tuna and salmon.
At the Dorset Seafood Festival in July, Jeremy Paxman aired his disdain for salmon farming. He was joined on a panel by chef Mitch Tonks and restaurateur and activist Caroline Bennett. The conversation focused on how we, as a nation, can better support our fishing industry – a cultural, culinary, and financial force in Britain. There’s a clear disconnect between our coastline communities and the inland population.
One pertinent point is how we might go about diversifying British palettes, which would aid sustainability. With Brexit casting light on the fishing industry, now’s a time better than ever to promote alternative fish. Recent news about North Sea cod stocks being certified as sustainable is promising but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ever look elsewhere. Cod and chips and mushy peas is a classic for a reason, but there’s so much more we could be making use of, equally versatile and just as easy to cook – and usually far more affordable. Here are five unfashionable fish that are vastly overlooked.
Dorset Seafood Festival’s panel discussion, Fishy Tales, was hosted by the aptly-named Nick Fisher, an author and fisherman. He wants pouting, a member of the cod family and in plentiful supply, to get its time in the spotlight: ‘Pouting produces wonderful, fine, cod-like fillets that we just don’t appreciate. In Spain, they’re called faneca and are on every fish counter; a real house favourite. Breadcrumbed and fried, and served with homemade tartare sauce in a bap: life-changing.’
Huss, also known as rock salmon, had its quota lifted this year. You might not find it in your local chippy, but it is becoming a little more common elsewhere now. It has a meaty white flesh, similar to the more expensive monkfish. I had it in Dorset with a rich tomato and caper sauce on bubble and squeak. It’s a dense, unrefined fish – and delicious.
Despite past attempts to raise megrim’s profile – calling it Cornish sole, for instance – it remains a lesser known fish on British dinner tables. It’s not quite as sophisticated as Dover or lemon sole, but is delicate and flavourful when pan-fried or baked with butter and lemon. Most of our megrim is still sent to Spain. We should keep a little more of it for ourselves.
A lot of specialist seafood chefs such as Mark Hix and Mitch Tonks love cooking with cuttlefish. It’s an alternative to squid, and is often more tender and sweet. There’s plenty of it, and not just in British seas. If nothing else, it can be eaten as an alternative to calamari.
A flaky fish with an off-white colour that tends to put people off. But give it a try – it’s inexpensive, tender and meaty. In my opinion there’s no better fish than pollock in a south Indian-style curry.