We should all eat more fish – just lay off the salmon and cod
February is a wonderful time for eating fish, but be aware of where it comes from
We have made some inroads into this anti-fish way of thinking, and it seems now we appreciate fish a little more. It features more on menus and shopping lists. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
Growing up in Ireland, one would be forgiven for thinking it was not an island surrounded by the sea on all sides. As an island, we have underappreciated the sea and its wonderful bounty.
Even inland, you’re never too far from the ocean, from its saline smell and invigorating embrace.
But growing up I didn’t eat much fish or see much fish being eaten. Fish was for Fridays or for Lent, something you ate when you couldn’t get meat. I remember floured and bony whiting for dinner. The taste and texture will stay in my mouth forever. No wonder I longed for meat, for a burger with a soft bun and some grilled cheese. We just never gave fish the love it needed.
Thankfully, we have made some inroads into this anti-fish way of thinking, and it seems now we appreciate fish a little more. It features more on menus and shopping lists. We have learned to appreciate it raw and realised you can also barbecue a fish to the point of caramelised perfection.
February is a wonderful time for eating fish. The seas are cooler and the fish better. But make sure to choose something other than cod or salmon. Choose pollock. Choose ling. Choose a spinny ray wing. Choose haddock. Choose something you have never had before. Choose gurnard. Choose a whole fish you have to fillet. Choose herring. Choose sardines. Choose a local fish. Choose a wild one. Choose fish cheeks.
Eating fish is never black and white, particularly in relation to the debate between wild and farmed. More than 40 per cent of the world's fish comes from farms now, so we can't write off all fish farming as bad. However, certain fish farming is more sustainable in my view, such as oysters and mussels, and we do this well in Ireland.
Salmon farming is another story, though we do have good organic salmon for Clare Island. Salmon farming suffers from demand: it's like chicken, people eat it without thinking, so it's over produced. If it takes too much fish to feed the farmed salmon, then it's not sustainable. But you have the same problem with wild fish, people eat too much of the one species, namely cod. There are many sustainable, local alternatives. You need to develop a relationship with your fishmonger and talk about what's best, because sometimes cod can be sustainable. I've found over the years people eat too much farmed salmon and wild cod, to the point that they won't order any order fish on the menu.
It's our responsibility too, as chefs, restaurateurs and industry professionals to look for other alternatives to offer people. We can't just keep saying that we buy it because they want it.
Some wonderful shellfish that's in season now are abalone and sea urchin. There is a wonderful shellfish farm called Mungo Murphy in Rossaveal, Co Galway, that grows both of these little creatures. They are extremely sustainable because they feed off seaweed (they grow that as well). As fish, sea urchin and abalone are at their best in January and early February.
Both are best eaten raw. I love to eat sea urchins with seaweed, chopped up in a sort of salsa. Abalone are beautiful crumbed and deep-fried, like very posh squid. As this month continues, think about extending your food horizons.