Oily fish

Oily fish

By
Nathan Outlaw
Contains
11 recipes
Published by
Quadrille Publishing
ISBN
9781849491150
Photographer
David Loftus

Sardine and herring

Sardine or pilchard, which should it be? In fact these are the same fish, but it’s the age and size that gives us the correct name. After 2 years a sardine becomes a pilchard and can go on to live well into double figures if it avoids its many predators. Traditionally caught using drift nets, stocks of sardines and pilchards are in a healthy state so you can eat them freely. Enjoy them in the summer and through until early winter, before they swim south to warmer waters. Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, these are very healthy fish and one of our finest to eat. As an added bonus, the bones in sardines are so small that you can eat them too. My favourite way to eat sardines is straight off the barbecue; they are also lovely cured and pickled.

Herring is another fish that we can feel good about eating. This oil-rich small fish is delicious, versatile and pretty sustainable. In my opinion it must be eaten very fresh, ideally as soon as it’s landed. Herring are also great preserved or smoked, most famously pickled as rollmops or smoked as kippers. I’m also partial to the creamy roe or ‘milts’ on toast. Fresh herrings can be eaten all year and are at their best through the autumn. Herring swim in large shoals of similar age and spawn in shallow waters on an annual cycle. When you see or catch a herring you’ll understand the nickname ‘silver darling’. They sparkle and shimmer in the water in a remarkable way.

Mackerel

Mackerel is, without doubt, my favourite fish and I love nothing more than catching, cooking and eating it. Beautiful to look at and impressive in the sea, it’s an amazing creature. It zooms through the water at a great pace in large shoals hunting down small fry in summer. Then, when winter comes, it’s off to the deep until things warm up again. Mackerel is a mature fish at about 3 years, gaining weight rapidly in its first couple of years. Mackerel is not as sustainable as it once was, due to the intense fishing from super trawlers. My suggestion is to support the small fisherman and eat it only if you know it’s been line caught. Also, avoid it during the spring spawning season.

Freshness is critical with mackerel. To appreciate this fish at its best, you really need to cook and eat it within a few hours of it being caught – ideally simply grilled or barbecued. To me, a freshly caught mackerel screams out to be cooked on a beach over coals the moment it is landed, and eaten there and then. If any mackerel has been around for a couple of days I would opt to cure and smoke it instead. Mackerel is amazingly good for you, particularly as it is packed with beneficial omega-3 fatty acids.

Salmon and sea trout

Salmon is one of our most popular fish. I am a big fan of wild salmon, obviously, but I’m also impressed by the quality of organic farmed salmon. Eating farmed salmon is undoubtedly a positive step, as it takes the pressure off wild salmon, which in time, should allow stocks to return to a safe level for sustainable fishing. Wild salmon have to be the most amazing survivors in the fish world. They spawn at the heads of rivers, then travel downstream and out to sea when they are 2 or 3 years old to feed on protein-rich sand eels, sprats and prawns. After a few years, when they are strong and big enough for the journey back, they return to their birthplace to breed. So salmon are anadramous, which basically means they can live in both fresh water and salt water, but not easily. Only the strongest survive the change to salt water – just one in every one hundred fish. Wild salmon truly demand respect. On top of an extraordinarily demanding life cycle, they must avoid being caught on rod and line, or by an otter, pike, heron or cormorant. And once out to sea they are targeted by seals, dolphins and sharks, not to mention air attacks from gulls and eagles. Truly amazing!

Sea trout looks like salmon, but it is a distant cousin and originates from the same egg as the brown trout. Quite why some trout are born sea trout and others brown trout is a bit of a mystery but it is thought to have a lot to do with the amount of food available and the place they are born. Like salmon, the sea trout embarks on the journey to the sea, but remains inshore until it has reached a good size and has a bigger survival rate as a consequence. It also returns upstream to breed – with the brown trout – much sooner. As for eating quality, sea trout is up there with salmon and the same cooking processes can be applied to both fish. I’m a big fan of lightly curing sea trout, then giving it a light hot smoke before making a simple beetroot salad to serve it with.

Smoked fish

I love good quality smoked fish and whenever possible I like to smoke the fish myself. Gone are the days of nasty pre-packed smoked kippers – unnaturally yellow in colour with that strange star-shaped butter pat on top. Now, even if home-smoking isn’t an option, you can buy good-quality smoked fish. Obviously, the calibre of a smoked fish is largely determined by the freshness and quality of the original catch, but the curing process plays a major role as well. Back in the old days, smoking was a way of preserving your catch and making it go further through the year. Now smoked fish is enjoyed purely for its special flavour, but there is a lot of work involved in getting a top-quality product and that brings a higher price tag.

If possible, source your smoked fish from the excellent artisan smokeries dotted around our coastline. Or consider investing in your own hot or cold smoker and experiment with different cures and woods for smoking. Expect a degree of trial and error to begin with, but in time you’ll find you can successfully smoke pretty much anything you buy or catch yourself.

So what is the difference between hot and cold smoked fish? With cold smoking the temperature barely touches 25°C. The curing process smokes and dries the fish, imparting flavour, but the fish remains raw. Before cold smoking, fish is always salted or brined, both to improve the texture and preserve it. Hot smoking does cook the fish and could be described as roasting with the addition of smoky aromas. The pre-salting or brining is much less, as the intention is to eat the fish straight away, unlike cold smoked fish which keeps for longer. Hot smoking is more suited to oily fish as white fish are inclined to dry out with the higher temperature.

Featured Recipes in this Chapter

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