Something fishy

Kathie Auton - 16 November 2012

Making a fish parcelI was already toying with writing a few simple fish recipes when I read a piece in The Guardian by George Monbiot – it’s a very interesting read and raises several important issues about buying fish.

From my perspective, as someone who wants to feed my family well, fish can be a scaly issue. Mr Monbiot is right, a lot of fish recipes you see in newspapers and magazines use ingredients that I either don’t have hanging around or can’t really afford, and that’s before I’ve even considered the sustainability question. For example, I know all chefs tell you have easy scallops are to cook; but really? After school? For a five year old? On one salary? Okay, point made, but all I’m saying is that I’m highly unlikely to be writing up Coquille St Jaques on my weekly menu plan...

Now, before I go on to make a few suggestions here, I need to say the following. If you have a super fishmonger nearby, can get to it regularly and have the cash, then obviously use it and ask them about the sustainability of their fish. This goes without saying, but I’m saying it anyway, because what I’ll be suggesting here is... frozen fish. NOT something you’re likely to see suggested by a Michelin starred chef I know, but still.

Frozen fish is a brilliant thing for family meals. And here’s why; you can permanently have it in - meaning you don’t need to be at all organised and you can cook it from frozen - meaning that you don’t have to be at all organised. AND, from a sustainability point of view, there is plenty of MSC certified frozen fish easily available, meaning you don’t have to be organised enough to know the breeding season of a pollock.

And on this point, fish labelling is a particularly puzzling area of food labelling. For those wishing to make an informed choice it can be something of a minefield. You want your fish to environmentally sound? Ethical? Organic? Wild? Full of Omega 3? In season? Not over-fished? British? And this is before we’ve even got onto taste... Food labelling is a topical and thorny issue right now, and without wanting to get into any food libelling, it’s one where the most influential are possibly being the least helpful. If you do want to know more about fish, fishing and the like, please consider looking at the Marine Stewardship Council site and the Soil Association organic scheme.

Okay, so my recipes may not have the finesse of the fancy, fish dishes produced by our top chefs, but they are all easy, use stuff you’ve probably already got in and can be put together and cooked quickly after school. So here’s a little shoal of recipes to add to your repertoire of family meals. Most of these are pretty easy for the kids to help put together too.

First things first, a word on the mighty Fish Pie. Everyone has their own favourite recipe for fish pie (and if you don’t, ask me and you can have mine), but did you know you can use frozen fish to make it? And by that I mean you can literally just put frozen fish fillets in it before doing the baking in the oven bit. Yes, you will get bigger lumps of fish on serving, but who cares? It works fine.

Breadcrumb Topped Fish

This is a very simple way to cook frozen fish and works especially well with wild salmon fillets. Break up a couple of slices or crusts of bread into breadcrumb-ish pieces. Add a splash of oil (rapeseed or olive) and any or all of the following: a spoonful of pesto, black pepper, broken up black olives, lemon zest, grated parmesan/cheddar cheese.

Give the mixture a squish and a stir. If the fish you are using has an ice glaze rinse it off under the cold tap and then pop the fillets on a grill pan (the mix should be enough for four fillets). Smush the breadcrumb mix onto the fish and then cook under a medium grill. Depending on your grill it will take something like 12 minutes to cook. To check you can poke a knife through the thickest part and then feel the blade, if it’s hot, the fish is cooked.

Another variation on this is to dip the frozen fillet in beaten egg and coat all over with a  thinner coating of the breadcrumbs, you can then turn it when grilling it, or bake in the oven at 200°C – this works well for smaller frozen fillets of white fish.

Fish Parcels

Finished fish parcelsThis is another very easy idea that the kids can help to make. In a nutshell you’re going to wrap your fish (white fillets or salmon - any will do) in a parcel of greaseproof and foil and bake it at 200°C for 20-25 minutes, whatever else you add to the parcel is limited only by what you’ve got in and good taste. Whatever you do add by way of vegetables, do slice it very finely though as it doesn’t have that long to cook.

Obviously, seeing as you’re raiding the freezer, there would be no shame in throwing in a handful of frozen peas or beans... You can also make these parcels up in the morning, leave them in the fridge all day and cook for 15 minutes instead. Here are a few suggestions:

  • 3 tbsp of tinned chopped tomatoes, black olives, basil leaves, pepper, knob of butter
  • Juice of half a lemon, pepper, finely sliced carrots, fennel and onion, knob of butter
  • Finely sliced mushrooms, a tablespoon of crème fraiche, bit of smushed garlic, pepper and a small splash of water or white wine, knob of butter
  • Finely chopped spring onions, green peppers, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, small splash of water

Pop your piece of frozen fish on top and construct the parcels rather like a Cornish pasty. I find either parchment lined foil or a layer of greaseproof inside and foil outside is the best option. Cook them in a dish in case of any leakings. Serve these with bread, mash or rice.

Spicy Fish

  • 4 frozen white fish fillets
  • 1 tbsp rapeseed oil
  • 1 tsp each fennel and cumin seeds
  • 2 small onions, finely sliced
  • 1 or 2 cloves of garlic
  • ¼ tsp turmeric
  • 1 tin of tomatoes
  • ¼ tsp cayenne (optional)

Heat the oil and fry the seeds until they pop. Add the onions and garlic and fry for several minutes until the onions are very soft and golden. Add the turmeric, then the tomatoes and cayenne if using. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat and add the fish fillets. You can also make the sauce ahead and reheat to cook the fish later. Simmer gently for about 10 minutes or until the fish is cooked through (check with a knife, as above). Serve with rice.

And if frozen fish wasn’t easy enough for you, next I’ll be suggesting some easy, MSC certified, Omega 3 rich recipes using….yes, you guessed it, tinned fish.

Kathie has two young children and is taking a break from teaching to be a full-time mum. She is passionate about cooking and growing good food and takes any opportunity to get her kids involved in the kitchen.

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Elisabeth Winkler
23 November 2012 12:24

I read this post on Tuesday and I think it must have influenced me!For I found myself buying Young's frozen fish in the Coop! I also had in mind the words of Charles Redfern of Fish4Ever saying Young's are doing good work on sustainability. (And if anyone knows about fish sustainability, it's Charles).I was feeling ill and invalid-like and bought Fish steaks in butter sauce - digestible by the infirm!And lo, "Young's responsibly sourced Fish for Life - Alaska pollack or haddock" was good! Thanks for reminding us of the sustainable, nutritional and practical value of frozen fish.And yes, chefs are obsessed with scallops, eh?!

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