When thinking about how to start chipping away at those scary looking bills, a good place for many of us to start seems to be the countless streaming subscriptions and the well-intended but never utilised gym membership bought back in January. But research has shown that inflation may also be impacting our food choices too.
Between March and June, UK fish sales had dropped by a whopping 8%, along with beef, lamb and pork which also saw a decline. Only chicken bucked the trend.
We all know that the key to a healthy diet is balance. Given the credentials that a lot of fish has as a low carbon, low-fat, high-protein food with all the good stuff in terms of oils, vitamins and minerals, it’s not something you should give up without a fight! Here are some tips to help you navigate a less expensive trip to your local fishmongers.
If you like your fish flat, our recommendation for a couple of less expensive choices that are plentiful off the coast of Cornwall are plaice and Megrim sole (known locally as Cornish sole). Both fish are found in deeper waters and are therefore caught by inshore and offshore trawlers, reaching their peak quality in the Summer months. They’re both a sustainable choice.
Both fish have light, delicate textures typical of most flat fish, with a mild, slightly sweet taste that lends them to a range of seasonings and sides. Because they’re both lean, neither are time-consuming to cook and can be grilled, fried or oven baked.
To prove just how versatile they can be, we worked with chef, author and sustainable living expert, James Strawbridge to develop a Katsu curry. A Japanese dish, typically made with chicken in breadcrumbs, James flipped convention on its head, swapping out the chicken for Cornish sole. The result is a simple, (more) nutritious, flavourful dish that doesn’t cost the Earth. Want some help in “breading” your fish, James Strawbridge has got you covered:
So what’s the catch? If both plaice and Cornish sole are versatile, abundant and tasty then why don’t they cost as much as some other flat fish? The simple answer is that they’re under-appreciated in the UK. To prove that we’re the outlier, hundreds of tonnes of Cornish sole are landed in Newlyn every year, but as much as 98% of this gets exported to the continent where it’s considered a delicacy. The wariness of Brits to give this fish a try does mean that prices aren’t too competitive.
Plaice is more of a commercially important species, enjoyed throughout Europe and a top choice for Brits too (though not one of the big five). But because of its abundance and milder taste compared to some rarer, more unique-tasting flat fish that are seafood restaurant favourites, they’re also relatively low cost.
Hake is a white-fleshed fish that is abundant off the coast of Cornwall. Its availability and lack of demand relative to other traditional British fish and chip shop staples makes it good value for money. The stock in Cornwall has recovered since a management plan was implemented almost thirty years ago, culminating in it receiving MSC certification in 2015.
“We’ve been promoting hake in this country now for over 10 years which has slowly built up a good market” says Newlyn-based fisherman Andrew Pascoe, reflecting on its slow but solid rise to the mainstream of British seafood cuisine.
Hake has a mild and sweet taste, making it a solid choice for people who aren’t keen on overly fishy-tasting seafood, opting instead for a meatier, firmer texture. Again, because of its mild taste, hake makes an ideal base to almost any fish recipe.
Another price-saving tip: how about buying your hake whole rather than a fillet? It tends to work out cheaper, utilising the yield of the fish, plus enjoying some of the rarer cuts like the collar or cheeks. We talked to Rich Adams, the owner of sustainable seafood restaurant, Argoe, based in Newlyn about the benefits of going whole.
“I prefer to cut it up than just fillet it, because you can cook it in different ways and you can get different textures, rather than just one fillet and then you waste the rest. For each sharing portion, you can get a bit of each of the different cuts of different qualities.”
For example, hake throat, also known as kokotxas (pronounced co-co-chas) sell at Spanish markets for €60 a kilo and are a delicacy in the Basque Country; a region with the highest per capita concentration of Michelin star restaurants in the world. Rich serves it at Argoe by poaching them slowly in olive oil with chilli and garlic. Watch Rich take on a 4kg hake here:
It’s here! And it’s a good job that it is, because if you were looking for the cheapest way to get your fishy fix then sardines (or pilchards if you’re old school) are the way forward. Even when they’re not packed in a can, fresh sardines are relatively inexpensive.
The Cornish Fish Co. sell a range of individually filleted and packaged fish, including cod, hake, bass, monkfish, haddock, gurnard and much more. The lowest cost of the lot is their sardines, with a 300g pack coming in at just £5.60. Sardines are an excellent source of Omega-3 fatty acids which help prevent heart disease, reduce the risk of blood clots, and contribute to lower blood pressure.
But what about cooking them? Thankfully Rich Adams is on hand again to show the simplicity of it during a cookery demonstration on a barbecue, “I don’t think you need a recipe to cook fish, you just need good fish. The flavour of a sardine [alone] is just incredible.” He explains.
“Get your barbecue nice and hot. Add salt to your pre-gutted sardines, and don’t be shy with it. Put way more on than what you would think because it’ll cook away on the barbecue. But it’s going to create the flavour when it mingles with the fat and oils of the fish. Place them on your barbecue and all of the oils will create a lot of flame and smoke which give them their amazing flavour. Once they’ve been on a while and have started to crust, you can turn them.
“The smell just transports you to somewhere else. Which is why I think more people should have them on their barbecue at home rather than just sausages and burgers. If you were cooking a barbecue for quite a few people, it’s a really affordable option so you can eat really good food for not much money.
“And the thing about them is when they’re fresh, the taste isn’t too strong. Some people think of oily fish as tasting too fishy, but if it’s fresh it’s not fishy. It’s pretty accessible in terms of flavour.” After they’re cooked, take them off of the barbecue, “add a good squeeze of lemon. And some more salt on top.” And that’s all it needs!
“It’s pretty hard to beat. It’s definitely in the running for one of my favourite fish.”
In spite of the hard times, we’re fortunate to have such a wide variety of fresh seafood available from around the Cornish coast, that we can afford to be a little bit picky when it comes to cost. It’s healthier than going for low-cost meats and the price is not so much a reflection of taste as it is the availability and popularity of certain species.
You can find a full list of merchants selling fresh Cornish seafood on our website.
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