“‘Carpe Diem’ does not mean ‘fish of the day’”
With over 100 different species of fish to choose from 50% of all menus in the UK now offer a fish dish as a starter or main course. This is true for fine dining through to contract catering. Salmon is the fish of choice amongst consumers, the majority of which is purchased via supermarkets. Provenance and sustainability are becoming much more important in your customers decisions of which fish they are willing to eat. Tuna and Cod being headline grabbing negative news stories, customers are making ethical as well as economic choices in regards to fish.
This gives you as chef, the opportunity to add value to your menu offering by citing your fish’s credentials. “Scottish”, “line-caught”, “hand dived” being a few examples of menu descriptors you could use.
Find a good supplier and build a trusting relationship, and keep your offer “fresh” using in season fish and seafood.
Fish – Buying Guide – Whole Fish
Where and how you buy your fish and seafood will vary from kitchen to kitchen, and will be greatly affected by your style of cuisine, supply chain and location. Seems simple advice but where you can, buy whole fresh fish from a supplier you trust, that is fished from sustainably certified stocks. Your supplier will be the best source of information in this regard. Ask questions, and be specific in your ordering. However, unless you actually caught the fish yourself knowing exactly how fresh it is can be difficult to determine!
A few key indicators of freshness and quality when buying whole fish are:
- Smell: strange but true, fish should not smell like fish, they should smell of the sea
- Eyes: look for bright, clear eyes. They should not be cloudy or sunken, or spotted red
- Skin: look for shiny and vivid almost metallic, slime on fish is a good sign
- Fins: should not be damaged or broken, look for defined and perky
- Gills: a good indication is pink or red, gills will fade to brown when going past its best
When buying whole fish by weight, as a general rule you will be left with just less than half the weight to eat. If you buy your fish pre-filleted you would expect the same qualities to be reflected in the skin and smell. Also, the flesh should be firm to the touch. Portion sizes of 4oz for a starter and 6oz for a main course are adequate. How you store your fish is also very important. Fish should be kept covered and refrigerated as close to Oo c as possible, in a separate unit if you have the space and resources available.
Shellfish – Buying Guide – Crustaceans and Molluscs
Lobsters and Crabs
The flesh of crustaceans deteriorates very quickly after its demise, turning mushy and tasteless. As a result Lobsters and Crabs are either sold live or cooked. If buying live, look for signs of activity, Lobster tails should snap occasionally, Crabs will wave their claws. They should feel heavy for their size which indicates good muscle development and therefore more meat. If going for cooked, make sure you have a good relationship with the fishmonger and know the amount of seasoning he uses. For total control it is always better to buy live. A portion size of 500g (1lb 2oz) live weight per person should be adequate for a main course.
Unless you are very lucky and have access through your location to a local catch, most prawns bought will at some stage have been frozen. The majority of prawns sold as “fresh” will have been defrosted at their location. Prawns deteriorate very rapidly on their demise so freezing them quickly retains their quality, providing better choice and availability. Prawns can be purchased raw or cooked; peeled or unpeeled. It is best to buy frozen raw prawns for more control. Always defrost in the fridge using a colander or perforated tray to allow liquid to drain away. Standing water will leech out all the flavour. Prawns will be mainly small North Atlantic Prawns [cold water] or larger warm water prawns, such as King Prawns and Tiger Prawns imported form counties like Indonesia. Prawns are general graded by size and sold as an approximate number per kilo eg 11/14.
Nephrops norvegicus, sometimes called Dublin Bay prawns or Norwegian Lobster most of the langoustines in the UK are consumed as scampi, their tail meat being sweet and prawn like in texture. The typical pub fayre “Scampi”, tail meat battered or breaded and deep fried, was made popular in the 1960s by the British seafood company asked by their white-fish trawler men in Scotland to find a use for langoustines, a by-catch from their fishing. Scampi is legally defined in he UK as nephrops norvegicus due to issuses with monkfish tails be passed off as scampi, and a destinction is made between “wholetail” and reformed, so to keep on the right side of your local Trading Standards officer, you menu should accurately distinguish between the two.
All uncooked shellfish whether bivalves (two shells) or univalves (one shell) should be live before cooking. When you buy them from your fishmonger they will should also come with health certification. Shells should be closed or should close when sharply tapped or squeezed together for bivalves. With univalves they are alive if you can see them moving in their shells, their shells move, or if there is foam on the opening of their shells. Any broken shellfish should be discarded.
Wash all shellfish in cold water to remove and grit or sand. Remove any barnacles or weeds and for mussels remove the threads (beards) just before cooking, as they don’t keep as well after this has been done. Shellfish can be stored for a few days in the bottom of the fridge covered with a dampened cloth.
Mussels will either be dredged or rope grown. Dredging runs between August and May, and these mussels are cheaper than rope grown, however more care is required when cleaning and preparing as they often contain much more grit and sand. Rope grown mussels are available all year round but not at their best in the summer months.
The two types of oyster most commonly available are the Native and Pacific (Rock) Oysters. The Native Oysters are considered the best, take twice as long to grow and are more expensive. They are available between September and April. Pacific Oysters are available all year round. When storing oysters in the fridge, always have the cupped side down to retain moisture.
Scallops are in the main dredged, hand dived scallops attract a premium price. They are sold in the shell but can also be available as shelled meat. The membrane, grey brown frill and black thread of intestine must be discarded. King scallops grow in shells approximately 15cm wide, with a yield of around 18-35 pieces per kilo of shelled meat.
Cephalopods are classed as molluscs and include the commonly eaten species of squid, octopus and cuttlefish. They share the same characteristics; bilateral symmetry, prominent heads, tentacles and the ability to squirt ink (which can be used to colour pasta and risotto dishes). They are not the prettiest of creatures and can be quite messy to clean and prepare. Octopus and cuttlefish are preferred on the continent where most of UK landings end up. Of the three, squid is widely used and available in the UK and with practice relatively straightforward to prepare. Squid has a firm texture and strong flavour and is best cooked quickly, pan-fried, griddled or in a stir fry. Squid is commonly known as calamari when deep-fried coated in seasoned flour.
Further information can be found at various internet resources, a few are included below.
Buying Fish in Season is a downloadable PDF from the Marine Conservation Society
The Seafood Guide is a downloadable PDF from SEAFISH which includes detailed information about over 100 seafood species and their availability. The guide also contains information about the seafood industry in the UK.