With water all around, why is it that sourcing good fish is so tricky?

Fish, fresh fish
Fish, fresh fish

Despite living on an island, surrounded by water, sourcing fresh local seafood can be quite a challenge here.

When you’re buying fish, if it actually smells fishy it should be avoided like the plague. Fresh seafood should be odourless with a slight notion of iodine.

If you go out fishing on a boat and gut and fillet the fish when you catch it there is no smell - odours are a sign of deterioration. I’ve witnessed fish being served in restaurants that you could smell from fifty paces. It’s poor practice, has health risks and is partially responsible for the general aversion to fish that ironically exists here.

Lots of people tell me they don’t like fish but put to the test and presented with a spankingly fresh caught variety, just off the grill, usually it’s eaten with relish.

On a recent visit to Italy the tranquility of the still mountain air was broken quite dramatically by very loud music being played from a white van, winding its way round the steep, narrow road leading to picture postcard high altitude villages.

It turned out to be the weekly visit of the fish van. The seller opened up the back doors of his muddied and dust encrusted Berlingo to reveal ice packed boxes of sardines, red snapper, bass and squid. Because the area is two hours from the sea, the popular visitor can only come once a week. The enthusiastic greeting from his chattering customers seemed to endorse the notion that it’s better to have something wonderful as a one off rather than a regular supply of mediocrity. 

A fish van visits Portrush every Thursday and the long queues there too are heart warming. The display includes white fish, hake, mussels, smoked fish, prawns and mackerel  - all completely odourless! 

When you have a food that’s nutritionally sound, is relatively quick to eat and requires little adornment, why not eat more of it?

Mackerel fillets can be cooked for about two minutes on a hot grill pan (or barbecue) then squeezed with a little lemon juice and sea salt. Serve with buttered wheaten bread with a spoonful of horseradish sauce for a light supper. Cooking fillets of fish like this is actually fast food in the best possible sense of it. Ready in minutes and so healthy.

Food delivered to your home is something the supermarkets have been cashing in on for years and now a trend that smaller companies are beginning to offer.

Vegetable box schemes have been around for years but a new addition is a fish box version from the Mourne Fish Box (mournefishbox.com) company. I got one last week with scallops, oysters and seabass.

My friend James, an oyster freak was over from Boston last week, so it came at the right time. Oysters are one of those Marmite foods you either love or hate and I’m definitely in the former camp. Whilst they’re perfect “au natural” with a squeeze of lemon juice, they also suit the addition of gutsy flavours.

Robert and Ann McComb sell all types of local seaweed at their Saturday stall in St George’s market and the wakame I picked up there was just the right umami for the oysters.

It’s not as intense as dulse and combined with rice vinegar, fresh ginger and soy was just the right salty, hot, sweet balance for the oysters. This dressing would also work well with oily fish or prawns.

Scallops are nearly the perfect seafood – rich and tasty with no waste and cooked in less than three minutes. They also pair well with robust flavours. The other recipe this week is for scallops with a warm stew of tomatoes, fennel and chorizo and then topped with a contrasting raw fennel and lemon garnish.

We’re blessed with beautiful seafood on our doorstep here – it’s time to celebrate it.