Fish. Love or hate kind of food. Like mushrooms or liver, fish will either elicit an “ooh, love fish,” or an “Ugh, smelly, horrible. Can’t stand the stuff”. Well, maybe not that black and white, but nearly.
Despite growing up in Florida I didn’t eat that much fish, unless it came with a side of coleslaw and hush puppies (the cornmeal-based fritter, not the soft shoe beloved of jazz musicians and math teachers). It’s not that I didn’t like it, rather that I wasn’t exposed to good fish dishes.
By the time I started cooking properly for myself I was married and living in the UK. Shortly after moving to the UK I found that eating meat didn’t agree with me at all. At home in Florida I could polish off White Castle burgers and steak tacos with the best of them, but post-move even the plainest of meats made me feel quite unwell. The only thing I could put it down to was the fact that the beef cattle in the UK were at the time raised on a different diet to their US brethern, especially in the winter when they would get a lot of root crops (another thing I couldn’t digest well, not having eaten many before. Florida doesn’t have the weather for many root veg). It got me thinking about the fact that we eat what the animals we eat, eats. Does that make sense?
Anyway, I quickly became a vegetarian, even flirting with veganism – but I liked cheese too much. Supportive Mr A, a rugby playing, meat and potatoes kind of guy through and through, joined me and together we explored the delights of 1980s-stylee vegetarian cuisine: lots of beany shepherd pies, flans and vegetable gratins. What does this have to do with fish? Well, after so many years of exclusively vegetarian eating I found myself in Portugal for a week-long conference and then staying on for a holiday with Mr A. By the time he met me I was ravenously hungry and bored out of my tree with what was ‘on offer’ – a term I use loosely. At that time in mid-90s Porto there were no vegetarian restaurants, and the only concession to vegetarians that my hotel could/would make was either a tortilla or a tortuously samey salad topped with an extremely hard-boiled egg. Every single day. Eggs at breakfast, lunch and dinner. I kid you not. By all rights I should run screaming when I even see a carton of the things, never mind be an urban chicken keeper.
So, Mr A and I made the momentous and life-altering decision, eat fish. As fish aren’t raised on root crops (although farmed fish can have a weird cereal based diet), I suspected all would be well. If I could get past the ‘it has a face’ thing.
Oh. My. Giddy. Aunt. Our first experience of fish was laughably awful. Not the taste, but the presentation. I might have coped okay with a fillet of something anonymous, but unbelievably it came as two whole fish, deep-fried, with their razor-sharp teeth rictusly clamped around each others’ tail. A gruesome zodiac symbol on a plate. Served me right, pardon the pun. Come back to me egg salad, all is forgiven.
I excused myself while Mr A gallantly and without fuss filleted the little fellows. We did end up nearly enjoying this most bizarre of meals, if only for the ‘I can’t believe we are doing this’ factor. The rest of the week wasn’t much better, but we obviously survived. Upon our return we occasionally had fish but not until I became pregnant with Miss R did it became a regular feature in our diet. And has been ever since. Over the years I have become much more adventurous not only with the fish choice but also the cooking method. Into this very blog I have sneaked in salmon and smoked mackerel recipes, but this one is my personal favourite. It also happens to be incredibly simple and amazingly family-friendly, give or take a jalapeno. The twist is the lime leaf, and it is incredible. If you like fish that is. If not, thank you for reading thus far, and I invite you to stay on so I can convince you of what you are missing. Vegans and vegetarians, congratulations for stomaching the gruesome fish tale (another unnecessary pun. Sorry). You are excused now. See you next time.
Nutrition and Cooking notes: Fish gets rather short shrift in the UK, although I believe things are getting better. Despite being surrounded by water and filled with lakes and lochs most of us fall short of the two servings a week that is generally recommended. Fear of cooking with fish – bones, scales, smell, time it takes – are the reasons most often given for shunning all but chip shop fish. Must fishmonger or supermarket fish counter will deal with any bones and cleaning, as well as offer tips on cooking. Some even sell sauces and flavoured butters to go with the fish – bung in some foil, scrunch and bake briefly. As for smell, most fresh fish shouldn’t smell of very much. Fishmongers are always your best bet for spanking fresh fish – filleted or whole and cleaned. And as for time, don’t get me started: fish is the original fast food. Fish is always best briefly cooked. Depending on thickness, you can have dinner on the table in around fifteen minutes. Generally bank on giving it 10 minutes per inch/2.5 cm, at 400F/200C. Here is a link to some straightforward cooking advice.
Nutritionally, protein is the main nutrient along with B12 and iron. White fish are all low in fat and easily digested – a huge bonus during cancer treatment and after any surgery. Oily fish offer even more: valuable, anti-inflammatory Omega 3 (white fish is anti-inflammatory too, just not as much) and vitamins A and D. Small fish with soft edible bones, such as whitebait and anchovies, or tinned salmon, are extremely useful for their calcium too. I would urge you to give fish more room in your diet, especially as a replacement for some meat dishes. Quick, low fat, delicious, varied and nutritious – need I say more? Oh, one more thing, it doesn’t even have to be fresh-fresh, frozen is just as nutritious. Lots of great ideas on the internet but hopefully you will try this one.
Please forgive the messy plates – we were hungry!