Fish - a slippery subject
Updated: Jun 26, 2019
Living in Cape Town has many advantages like getting really fresh fish and living in Hout Bay the harbour is a quick 5 minute walk away. But getting a good selection of fresh fish can prove to be a bit of a challenge.
We used to have a wonderful branch of Fish 4 Africa in our local Spar and I was always so delighted to see the wide selection of different fish that were available, some I never even knew existed. It made me realise how supermarket shopping had limited my choices. The fish at Fish 4 Africa were cheap and fresh and seemed to be available in abundance but alas they have closed down and moved back to the factory shop in the harbour. Suddenly all those options are gone and hake is back on the menu, a bit boring.
More to fish than hake
When you suggest eating fish as an alternative protein source to meat most people probably think of hake, more than likely deep fried with a side portion of chips, hardly your healthy option.
We have some wonderful fresh fish options that most of us may not even be aware of. If we see a new fish we may be reluctant to try it. We have a wide variety of fish around our coastline. Our local fresh fish include: herring, sprats, sardines (orange list) snoek and mackerel all healthy omega 3 rich fish. We also have Carpenters (Silvers), Gunards and Hottentots you may not have ever tried them because they are not easily available. Then the ones that are familiar tuna, yellowtail, angelfish salmon and salmon trout.
Wild Caught Fish
One of the main concerns around fish is depleting fish stocks. This is where SASSI is such a great initiative because it helps you the consumer know which local fish are more sustainable and which have depleted stock levels. The SASSI listing system uses a simple system of GREEN - fish can be eaten because stock levels are sustainable ORANGE - think twice as stock levels are uncertain RED - don’t buy these fish as fish levels are depleted due to over fishing. SASSI LIST
Marine Stewardship Council was set up 20 years ago to help monitor international fish stock levels. They have established a certification system whereby fish with the MSC sticker are fish that are sustainable, traceable and wild caught using good fishing methods. Fishing needs to be sustainable and maintaining healthy fish stock levels is vital. MSC
Farmed fish are another story, like land based farming not all farming practices are the same. Some fish farms take more care with how the fish are kept and what they are fed.
One of the most farmed fish is salmon. For some reason the perception of salmon as a healthy fish option continues even though the salmon we eat today is most likely farmed. And the price of this farmed imported fish is hard to justify. I think partly the reason for it’s continued popularity is the number of salmon recipes that are available. This is the only fish we are shown how to cook so it becomes the one we are most comfortable cooking.
Sometimes farmed fish can help wild stock levels to recover, this is the case with Kob. It is such a popular local fish that it has landed up on the Red list because it was so over fished. Woolworths only offers it as a farmed version, this allows wild fish levels time to be able to recover. Some fish are easier to farm like Tilapia and Rainbow trout which makes them a good sustainable fish option.
Woolworths promotes their fish under the Responsibly Sourced Fish, which means their fish is farmed or sustainably fished. Their offering of farmed salmon and Rainbow trout is overwhelming in both selection and price. They also offer wild caught hake, angelfish and kingklip and farmed tilapia and Kob. Snoek and mackerel seem to only be available as smoked and herring can only be found as kippers.
Other supermarkets seem to vary a lot in what they offer. For example the PnP in Constantia has a wonderful fresh fish counter whereas Hout Bay has no fish counter at all! So finding a good selection of fresh fish can be a little bit of a challenge. Once you do find a good fishmonger whether independent or part of a supermarket make sure to support them. They won’t always have what you want on offer so be willing to try what they have available. Like the emergence of ethical butchers I hope we can see the rise of ethical fishmongers.
Try Something New
I really lay the blame for our lack of a fish culture on restaurants, the only fish you ever see on the menu is tuna and salmon and then as line fish it will more than likely be yellowtail, usually overpriced and overcooked or kingklip (orange listed). And then there is the firm favourite the ritual of the Sunday drive to Hout Bay or Kalk Bay to eat fish and chips at the harbour. Why do we never see Snoek on restaurant menus but only ever have it on the braai or fresh mackerel as the special of the day? Surely some creative chef can inspire us to deviate from the fish norm.
How fresh is my fish
Ideally the fish you buy should be displayed whole so you can check that it is fresh. The skin should be firm, the eyes clear and smell should be of the sea rather than a strong fishy smell. If you buy a whole fish ask the fishmonger to give you the bones. Put them in the freezer and when you have a few carcasses you can make your own simple fish stock. This would not apply to the oily fish.
When you do find a new fish give it a try. The secret is not to do too much to the fish. I usually have it filleted skin on, I make a few slashes in the skin to stop it curling up and I dry the fish. Then lightly dust it in a little flour and fry skin side down in a small amount of butter and olive oil. I turn it over and cook it until just done, it should come apart with a fork. Then I take the fish out of the pan and add a little lemon juice to the pan and loosen up all the pan juices I pour this over the fish and finish off with chopped fresh parsley or chives. I also love frying fresh or lightly smoked mackerel with fresh bay leaves the flavours work so well together.
Since so many of us need fish inspiration I am planning to share my fish recipes with you so keep an eye out for them.
If you don’t buy it they won’t sell it, if you don’t ask for it they won’t stock it. Never underestimate your power as a consumer.