How would you like your fish, madam?

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Choice – lots of choice. That’s what we are used to in the modern world but it wasn’t always like that and choice has two bedfellows – complexity, often accompanied by stress, and risk (of making the wrong decision). Only trial, error and experience can help you. This is how they have helped me.

Choice of species

More fish are available to choose from than ever before, although some are already slipping back off the menu (Bluefin tuna, eel, Patagonian Toothfish). When I was young, delicious species such as John Dory, pout, ling and wolfish were unheard of and salmon was an expensive luxury.

Brought up on eating trout which I had caught, I’ve always found flatfish matched that light, sweet taste and so sought them out. Flatfish are difficult to catch on a rod in Scotland. As a boy I used to dig lugworm in Montrose basin and fish for cod off the rocks. I knew that flounder were easily caught in the Basin. What put all the locals off was that the flounder were reputedly feeding on the peas washed out of the Premier Foods canning factory.

Incidentally, Premier paid the highest local student wages and my brother Rob and I profited from this. Rob was entrusted with cooking tins in the ‘retorts’ and could not resist reading during the 18 minute cook and, yes you guessed it, twice burnt a retort full of hundreds of tins of peas. Very expensive error but never sacked. I mixed the tomato sauce for the baked beans. A few gallons of sugar, a few gallons of tomato paste, water – tomato sauce – done! (but I’ve never really liked it on fish).

Cooking choices

In the 90s the clever clogs who spot the next restaurant trend said “Fish, simply cooked”. Up popped Fish!, Loch Fyne Oysters nationally and FishWorks amongst others. A variety of non-luxury fish were grilled, poached or fried to celebrate fresh fishiness. Usually it was beautifully delivered but if you weren’t careful (or lucky) you could find yourself stung by a decent sized restaurant bill for a botched up piece of pollock.

My childhood memory (don’t worry, this is my last one) was of fish two ways – in a sauce (cooking method not understood) or fried in Paxo breadcrumbs. Now one can serve fish boiled, grilled, cooked in foil, baked, ceviche, tartar, confit or raw. Chefs like to cook Loch Duart salmon using confit techniques (slow cooked in oil at a low temperature to keep moist and flavoursome). Usually done with a thermometer to keep the oil at about 45°C (who has a thermometer in their kitchen drawer?) as this way it underlines the distinctive Loch Duart taste. I was into my thirties before I dared try raw salmon – a road to Damascus moment. One outcome of this is that all customers visiting the farm all try our salmon as sashimi.

A wise person explained that the oils in salmon carry subtle flavours. As you cook the salmon using heat, the salmon loses layers of flavour from these oils which you may taste in sashimi. “Great salmon sashimi will taste of flowers too”, said my colleague Nick to a journalist, for which he was really teased. The teasing from me has stopped because I can’t help but agree. Truly great salmon sashimi will taste of salmon, the sea and, yes, flowers!

Farming choices

“How would you like your fish, madam? Reared in a recirculation tank? Farmed in pens? Farmed on the roof in a tank to reduce transport costs? Rope grown?  Intensively farmed? Extensively farmed? Organically farmed? Freedom Food approved? Friends of the Sea approved?”

Yes, we have reached the stage of multiple choice in aquaculture. Our grandparents would not even understand these options. Our grandchildren may have no other option because wild caught fish may be so rare. This is a privilege. Let’s make the most of it. As our American customer CleanFish would say, “Vote with your forks!”

At Loch Duart we have lived under the glare of media and public scrutiny of our industry since before we started in 1999. That’s fine – it makes us try even harder. You, the salmon eaters of the world, have told us what you like (the taste, the eating quality, the farming methods). You are answering all aquaculture producers’ questions by your choice of what you buy and eat.

Choose carefully and “enjoy your meal”!

Andy Bing