Beautiful squid is plentiful in the seas around western Scotland and is eaten by everyone, rich and poor, the world over – apart from by us Brits who, despite being a nation surrounded by sea, prefer Captain Birdseye.
When it comes to the statistics of eating sea fish, us British rarely step outside a comfort zone of three types – salmon, tuna and cod, most of which is imported from abroad. In turn, we export the quality fish we do catch to the continent to be eaten by the Spanish, Portuguese and Italians who love to eat the fish we don’t.
A testament to British food adventurism:
– Tuna (72 million tones, 19%. Value £337m). One reason why we probably shouldn’t: Yellow-fin, bigeye and bluefin all over fished
– Salmon (47 million tonnes 12%. Value £632m). One reason why we probably shouldn’t: Three kilos of wild fish are used to make one kilo farmed salmon
– Cod (42 million tonnes, 11%. Value £318m). One reason why we probably shouldn’t: Current cod stocks are 5% of historical stocks 100 years ago
In 2011 Hugh Fearnley-Whitingstall, Jamie Oliver and Heston Blumenthal joined forces in a campaign promoting other fish types such as gurnard and dab as well as wide ranging and not so obvious options such as shark, jelly-fish and sea cucumber. The Marine Stewardship Council, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affaires and the Marine Conservation Society all supported the campaign. Other fish promoted include black bream, mackerel, sprats and flounder.
The fish Brits should to get to know:
A wedge-shaped, bottom feeding fish with a bulbous head and red colouring. The fish has pectoral fins with finger-like ends used for feeling for food on the sea bed and lives between 30 and 250m deep on gravel, sand or rocky beds feeding on crustaceans and small fish. The gurnard wins no beauty contests but is probably the best tasting under-exploited fish in our seas. Fry with mushrooms and thyme
Tiny forage fish containing high levels of nutritious oils, sprats are best barbecued or fried
A bivalve mollusk found in intertidal zones attached with a ‘beard’ (byssal threads) to rocks. Dark blue to black asymmetrical wedge shaped shell, longer than it is wide. Located on exposed rocks with good tidal stream, often with fresh water mixed. Rope-grown mussels are highly sustainable and delicious when cooked in white wine and garlic
Mackerel, sardine and pollock
Currently the sixth, seventh and eighth most popular fish by volume in the UK, they are relatively plentiful and, in the case of mackerel and sardine, rich in fish oils. Pollock is a much-undervalued fish
Squid is much loved on the continent and is eaten in huge quantities. It is best cooked extremely quickly flash fried or very slowly over a long period stewed – anything else runs the risk of it being as edible as a Le Mans endurance racing tyre compound. Get is right and it should be tender.
Squid is great fried in breadcrumbs as calamari, char grilled or stewed and, however it is cooked, the squid should be dispatched swiftly – if the fish is allowed to stress hormones will be secreted into the meat affecting the flavour. Insert two fingers behind the head and squeeze, the animal will die instantly and may change colour in the process. Squid’s in!