Salmon is so heavily protected now it wouldn’t be viable to have it on menus

Last week I did a fish cookery demonstration for the Northern Ireland Science Festival in association with Ulster University.
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The remit was to cook dishes that made fish accessible, quick and economical. The fish was provided by Sea Source in Kilkeel, a company that can trace it’s pedigree back through local fishermen to 1853. It is a cooperative owned by local fishermen, who strive to supply the highest quality, world class, wild caught and sustainable seafood from local waters. In 2016 they opened a shop in Kilkeel. Every penny of profit from the Sea Source Seafood Shop is reinvested in the business, be it buying the catch from the fishermen to providing training. The word “sustainable” is bandied about a lot these days but in fishing terms it simply means allowing fish to replenish without over fishing.

We live on an island surrounded by sea and yet when you go into many restaurants the fish offering is seabass or salmon. It is illegal to commercially fish seabass in our waters so the fish you see on the menu will invariably have been farmed in Turkey. Likewise salmon is so heavily protected now it wouldn’t be viable to have it on menus – it’s a rare delicacy. The salmon on the menu will be farmed somewhere. In our quest to have all food available all year round we’re settling for less. Imported strawberries in February aren’t going to taste great so why not wait until the summer when they’re grown here and are delicious. We used to eat seasonally and it’s probably time we returned to it. Seasource brought me down some amazing fish to cook with – mackerel, Pollack and I had sourced some gurnard locally. One of the misconceptions about fish is that it smells but the fact is it only has an odour when it has deteriorated. Buy your fish from a good fishmonger when it’s fresh and odourless and you won’t go wrong.

One of the questions I got asked last week was “where can I source good fish?” There are a few fishmongers left here so support them. St George’s market in Belfast has an amazing array of fish on a Friday and Saturday and there are vans dotted across the country who’ll have spanking fresh fish available. It’s probably a good idea to avoid vacuum packed fish from supermarkets. When you can’t get fresh fish consider tinned or jarred. Check on the side that it’s been fished responsibly. I’m very partial to a tinned sardine on toast – all of the nutrition from oily fish with none of the flaff. I’ve included a recipe here for tuna with pasta – it’s quick and tasty. It’s topped off with garlicky crumbs for a bit of texture contrast. Katsu curried chicken is very popular now – this Japanese dish consists of panko crumbed protein with a curry sauce. I’ve added a recipe here where white fish replaces the chicken. You could use haddock, coley, Pollack or whatever the fish monger advises. Coat in crumbs and serve with the curry sauce and some rice. Mackerel seems to be available now and here it’s grilled quickly, glazed with chilli and honey and served on some toast with pickles and kebab shop style sauce. Or you could just grill it and have with some dressed leaves.

We really are blessed with great fish here – get out, find it and embrace it!

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