A cookbook that celebrates the British seafood community.
For The Love of the Sea is an unusual cookbook packed with recipes for fish and shellfish. Compiled by Jenny Jefferies (Meze Publishing), it is a collection of stories told by those who go to sea to catch the fish we eat, who process and cure it, who write about it and cook it. The writing is deeply personal and tells of family businesses going back generations to young fisherwomen who are breaking into a traditionally male occupation. Each contributor tells their story and provides a favourite seafood recipe.
This is the second of a series of cookbooks compiled by Jefferies, the first being For The Love of the Land. It is a book that has arrived with impeccable timing as the British seafood industry faces the double challenge of the effects of lockdowns on sales plus the damage that Brexit has done to the exporting of British fish and shellfish. It is a curious paradox, that a population that loves its fish and chips so dearly, eats very little of the wonderful fish that is landed on our shores. Most of it is exported. Hence the financial ruin facing many exporters who cannot sell to the local market for lack of uptake. Speaking for myself, I have far too little confidence in cooking the less popular fish and in general, I believe, home cooks think fish is too tricky to cook. In fact, it is usually very quick and not necessarily complex at all. I do think that the seafood industry has its work cut out as far as popularising British fish is concerned and encouraging and teaching us how to use the fish that swim about us. Ironically, much of the fish we eat in the UK is imported.
When buying British fish or ordering in a restaurant, look out for the blue fish label from the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). All seafood carrying this logo has been sourced sustainably from a well-managed fishery that impacts as little as possible on the environment. This is crucial if the oceans are to be protected and supplies safeguarded for future generations.
I chose three recipes to try out at home. The first was salmon, one of the most popular fish eaten by British consumers. The recipe comes from Wester Ross Fisheries based in Ullapool on the west coast of the Scottish Highlands. The fishery is the oldest and only independent salmon farmer in the UK. The organic salmon are fed no antibiotics, no growth hormones or GMOs and are raised in the protected environment of the farms.
I cook salmon weekly but have never tried it with citrus. Slow-roast citrus Wester Ross Salmon cooks at a lower heat than I am accustomed to, the fish fillet laid out and covered with slices of orange, lemon, and tangerine. I have tried it twice since I enjoyed it so much. One time I added slices of grapefruit. The citrus slow roasts and not only keeps the fish moist but is lovely to eat. It looks good too when it comes to the table, colourful and packed with nutrients.
The second dish I tried was made with pollock, a sustainable alternative to cod with which I have recently become acquainted. The recipe for barbecued ling or pollock was provided by Salcombe Angling/ A Fishy Business. Chris Roberts is a fisherman who was born and lives in Salcombe. He owns two boats, one takes tourists out to fish during the summer months and the other is used to fish for bass, mackerel, pollock and other sustainable species using rod and line fishing. Roberts also brings in lobster, crab and scallops which are sold at A Fishy Business in Salcombe. I wish I had known about the shop when I visited Salcombe last year. An alternative, with Nationwide deliveries, is Pesky Fish, with their online marketplace.
Although the weather did not suggest a BBQ on the day I made the recipe, Roberts provided instructions for cooking in the oven which is what I did. The fish was cooked en papillote which is a great way to ensure a juicy meal. It could not have been more simple – fish, spring onions and a knob of butter. Fresh fish needs little else. It was unfussed with, the pollock took pride of place on our plates and the meal took 20 minutes to cook.
The last recipe was a bit more complex and was a winner. It is a recipe from Rachel Green who is a chef and Seafish ambassador, championing sustainable British seafood. Spiced seafood tagine uses cod and large Mediterranean prawns. I cook a lot of tagines as they are great for informal entertaining and improve if made ahead of time. I don’t usually make them with fish so was delighted to find such a great recipe. It made a wonderful lunch which we ate in bright sunshine outdoors. We reminisced about tagines eaten in Marrakech and I would have been very satisfied had I been served this dish there. Green’s recipe is spicy and aromatic but not too hot. It includes ras-el-hanout, the complex Moroccan spice blend that contains dozens of spices, including rose petals. The tagine also incorporates cumin seeds, ground cumin, cayenne pepper, and a generous quantity of paprika. I used sweet paprika to keep the heat down, but you could turn it up with hot paprika if you prefer. The addition of chickpeas not only makes the dish go further but also adds texture and additional flavours. I particularly enjoyed the little pops of sweetness that the chopped dried apricots contributed.
This is a great dish for entertaining as you can make the sauce ahead of time, adding the fish at the last minute as it cooks through in a matter of minutes. The recipe calls for large Mediterranean prawns and if you can get hold of those really big ones with their shells on those would be perfect. I couldn’t get any from my supermarket online order, so I used what was described by the supermarket as ‘extra-large prawns’ but did not have shells and were, in fact, quite small. They tasted good but I think that the addition of grilled, shell-on prawns would add an extra dimension to the tagine as the recipe suggests.
I enjoyed reading through this book with its heartwarming and inspiring stories. I will certainly be using many of the recipes. It is the sort of book that makes me want to take a road trip around the UK to visit these inspiring people and their businesses. There is so much marvellous produce waiting for us to consume. At the back of the book is a list of the location and contact details of every contributor. Many of the businesses have online shops so even if we are not yet on the road, we can enjoy some top quality seafood. I might just have kippers for breakfast this weekend.
A spicy fish and prawn tagine
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic finely chopped
- 1 large onion thinly sliced
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 2 tbsp ground cumin
- 2 tbsp paprika
- 2 tsp ras el hanout
- 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
- 400 grams tinned chopped tomatoes
- 400 grams tinned chickpeas
- 100 grams dried apricots chopped
- 1 lemon zested
- 1 bay leaf
- 400 ml fish stock
- salt and pepper
- 500 grams cod loin or a mixture of white fish
- 6 large raw Mediterranean prawns
- 600 grams couscous to serve
- 50 ml natural yoghurt to serve
Heat a heavy-based casserole on medium heat. Add the olive oil and saute the garlic and onion until softened. I like to add the garlic once the onion has softened so that it doesn't burn.
Turn the heat up and add the spices and fry for 1 minute. Reduce the heat.
Add chopped tomatoes, chickpeas, chopped apricots, lemon zest, bay leaf and fish stock. Season to your taste and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir regularly so nothing sticks.
You can make the dish in advance up to this point.
Cut fish into large pieces and add to the casserole. Push gently down into the sauce.
Cover with a lid and reduce heat to low. Cook for 5-8 minutes until fish is cooked. Add stock if the tagine is too thick.
While fish is cooking, grill the prawns for 4-5 minutes, turning halfway and then drizzle with olive oil.
Put the grilled prawns on top of the tagine and garnish with a handful of fresh coriander.
Serve the tagine with couscous, yoghurt and wedges of lemon.
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