A Different Kettle of Fish; FOOD Seafood Consumption Is Riding the Crest of a Wave - and Chefs Are Playing a Key Role, Says Richard McComb

The Birmingham Post (England), March 27, 2009 | Go to article overview

A Different Kettle of Fish; FOOD Seafood Consumption Is Riding the Crest of a Wave - and Chefs Are Playing a Key Role, Says Richard McComb


Byline: Richard McComb

Munching on delicate canapes of Brixham red mullet, Isle of Arran scallops and Aberdeenshire pickled herring it was reassuring to know I was doing my bit to promote the worthy cause of fish consumption.

The seafood and Champagne get-together was held at the Bucklemaker in Birmingham, one of the region's best fish restaurants, tomarks its triumph in an award scheme designed to find the best and tastiest use of the oceans' rich larder.

Top fish supplier Openshaws, which has a base in Birmingham, and Seafish, the UK seafood authority, challenged cooks to conjure up dishes based on seasonal, wild and native produce. The emphasis was on the provenance of fish and sustainability, all with a view to protecting fish stocks for future generations while continuing to thrill diners' tastebuds.

The top prize went to the Bucklemaker, in St Paul's Square, which won over the judges with a dish of wild Devonshire turbot fillet, from Brixham, poached in a court bouillon, with fresh ginger and crab cakes.

Head chef Daniel Anderson said the victory underlined the restaurant's commitment to serving the freshest fish and developing exciting new recipes.

He said customers were always willing to try new fish varieties and flavour combinations. "We have always tried to open the door where customers' tastes are concerned. I like to try and push exploration," said Daniel.

To celebrate their win, Daniel and his right-hand man David Killingworth laid on a wonderful selection of canapes. The red mullet was pan-seared with saffron aioli and olive tapenade; Cornish local boat mackerel, smoked in house, was peppered with cream of horseradish and avruga caviar; and the Scottish scallops were marinated with dill, lime and juniper and accompanied with crushed quail eggs.

It's hardly surprising fish outsells meat during the week at the restaurant and it is particularly popular for lighter lunch-time eating. Regular seafood dishes might feature scallops, currently being served with a cauliflower puree and tartare butter.

"It's been flying out of the kitchen. People love the simplicity of the dish," said Daniel.

The competition coincided with a drive to raise awareness about the health benefits of eating fish and comes as popular consumption rides the crest of a wave.

According to Seafish's recently published 2008 trade summary, a total of 780,600 tonnes of seafood worth pounds 2.2 billion was imported into the UK - up five per cent on the previous year. In cash terms, the UK imports twice the amount of seafood it exports and the countries it sources from reflects our traditional tastes in seafood, which can be summarised as:

cod, haddock and other white fish from Iceland and the Faroe Islands;

salmon from Norway and the USA;

cold water prawns from Denmark;

tuna from Mauritius;

warm water prawns from Thailand.

Cod, tuna and salmon remain the big three for imports but tastes are changing as fleets come under pressure to adhere to sustainable fishing practices. The new kid on the block is pollock. Last year the UK imported 32,071 tonnes of the fish - an annual increase of almost 500 per cent.

Nikki Hawkins, food services and events manager for Seafish, said the nation's hunger for fish and shellfish was continuing unabated. Both the obesity epidemic and the health benefits of eating seafood were having a major impact on rising consumption.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) advises eating at least two portions of fish a week, one of which should be oily fish. (A portion is defined as 140g.) The FSA is currently carrying out a nationwide consultation into the recommendations and is looking into the possible environmental impact of its dietary advice on fish stocks.

Nikki said demand for fish in the restaurant business could be attributed to the fact consumers were prepared to be more adventurous in their choices when dining out. …

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