Magazine article The Spectator

Waiting for Whiting

Magazine article The Spectator

Waiting for Whiting

Article excerpt

Whiting does not seem to be fashionable these days - perhaps it never was - but in my early 20th-century edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica it is described as One of the most valuable food fishes of northern Europe'. This may be due in part to its not necessarily enviable reputation as being good for invalids. It is said to be wholesome and digestible, especially when steamed, but unfortunately the 'invalid' tag puts one in mind of hospitals and old people's homes where the smell from the kitchen of watery, overcooked cabbage mingles with the smell of watery, overcooked and not entirely fresh fish. Whiting deserves better than that.

Its range stretches from Iceland to the Mediterranean; it is often taken in shallow water, close inshore, yet it is possibly the least-known member of the cod family. Haddock, hake, coley, pollack are all more often found at the fishmonger's. Indeed, so rarely is the whiting sighted in Wiltshire that I had some trouble getting it. Apparently it is considered, by fishmongers at least, to be inferior to haddock and hake, and its price has been forced up by the demand for whiting from France and Spain. But I was able to buy whiting fillets at £5.50 per pound, delivered to my door from Cornwall for a small charge, and the service was so quick and efficient, also including a free kilo of smoked salmon for new customers, that the company responsible, Fishworks, deserves a plug.

For some unaccountable reason whiting used to be served whole with the tail twisted round and put in the mouth of the fish, which was then described as en colère. (Anyone would be pretty angry to have their tail stuffed into their mouth. The whiting in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland wasn't very pleased, as he said to the slow-moving snail, to have his tail trodden on by a porpoise.) When the fish is cooked whole, it is usually split down the back, rather than the stomach, to remove the backbone; however, my experience with whiting is confined to the fillets, with not a tail in sight.

A whiting dinner was prepared in Wiltshire last weekend. First, a Spanish soup, caldo gaditano (of Cadiz), incorporating olive oil, garlic cloves (later discarded), chopped onion, fish stock, parsley and pieces of whiting. …

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