What to buy
There are over 100 different species of seafood in the UK ready for us to eat - so how do you choose which to buy? Luckily we're here to help you choose what to go for.
Many people are unaware of most of these species and, understandably, stick to those fish they know already. There are so many different types of fish and shellfish to try, though, that Fish is the Dish wants to help reduce confusion! This includes advice on everything from what species of fish to try, to what to do with it and how to store it in the meantime.
Ask your fishmonger
If you’re unsure about anything, don’t hesitate to ask; fishmongers know their stuff and will be happy to give you some tips. Also, if you have a recipe to follow but your fish of choice isn’t available, the fishmonger can suggest what to use instead. Don’t worry about the preparation, either; short of actually cooking it for you, the fishmonger can do everything else – just say if you want something boned, filleted or skinned.
Ask your fishmonger where your cod comes from
Cod stocks in some areas of UK waters are depleted, so these are strictly managed to make sure the numbers recover. However, more than 95% of the cod we eat in the UK comes from managed fisheries in Iceland and the Barents Sea - so there’s plenty to enjoy!
Buying in bulk
Instead of buying individual salmon fillets, it’s much cheaper to buy a whole salmon and get the fishmonger to cut it up for you, before you freeze it as individual portions when you get home.
Fall hook, line and sinker for sustainable fish
Although we have an appetite for cod in the UK, there are many other types of fish to enjoy from British waters. In Cornwall, for example, 40 different species of fish are landed every day – of which only 12 are subject to fishing quotas. And many of those varieties have had their quotas increased, thanks to more abundant stocks.
Fresh vs Frozen
It’s up to you, but a simple approach is to buy fresh fish from a fishmonger when it’s in season, and frozen fish from the freezer cabinet when it’s not. Technological advances in freezing mean that fish can maintain its quality very well, especially when freezer trawlers allow the catch to be processed and frozen within a very short time of leaving the sea. Be aware that, legally, if a fish has been frozen and then thawed, it should be labeled as ‘chilled’ instead of ‘fresh’.
Frozen – no signs of thawing
Frozen seafood should be bought frozen solid, with no signs of partial thawing. Check the packaging isn’t damaged and that there’s no sign of ‘freezer burn’ discolouration.
If buying chilled seafood, you can freeze it
Any fish that you’re not planning to eat within a few days must be frozen, bearing in mind that oil-rich fish such as mackerel and sardines don’t freeze as well as their less oily cousins.
When it comes to portion size, it's not always easy to know how much to serve per person for their dish.
Fish are best when they are in season. To get the most out of your chosen fish, it's useful to have seasonality information - this helps you select your fish when it is at its best and most readily available.
Sustainability and labels
With old wives' tails and media sensations it’s sometimes difficult to know what seafood is safe to buy.
Use your freezer like you would your store cupboard
You probably always keep a tin or two of baked beans in your cupboard. Well, frozen fish can be just as good for last-minute meal ideas!
You can cook prawns and seafood cocktail from frozen, so stash a few bags of each in your freezer and you'll always have something to make if you're a bit stuck.
What to look for with chilled seafood
- The eyes of a whole fresh fish should be bright and not sunken.
- The skin should look firm, shiny and moist.
- It should smell of the sea and not be overpowering.
- Fillets should be neat and have a glistening, translucent quality – whether it’s white, brown or pink flesh.
- Smoked fish should have a fresh, smoky aroma and glossy good looks.
- Mind the gap when buying shellfish: you want the shells to be tightly closed, without any cracks. If they are open, they are likely to be deteriorating in quality so gently tap them on a surface – if they close, they should be okay to eat but if they remain open or are cracked discard them.
- Once cooked, discard shellfish that have not opened during the cooking time
Where to start
Whether the fish is fresh, frozen, chilled or cured, most fishmongers or supermarket fish counters offer a large variety to choose from.
If you're looking for ideas for something new, or for a specific occasion, ask for advice and they'll be very glad to help you.
White fish – try something new
If you like the taste and texture of cod, you’ll love pollock, coley, ling, gurnard and hake. These fish all have a similar flavour and white, flaky texture, and work well in any cod recipe.
You can freeze fish
To freeze, place fish in airtight, vapor-proof packaging, such as aluminum foil, plastic containers, polythene bags or freezer-lock bags. Remove as much air from the packaging as possible before sealing, or wrap with cling film if preferred. Remember to defrost and eat fish within three months of it being frozen.