Peter Langlands – our very own Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall – urges us to remove our blinkers and look at other seafood options, or we may not have that choice in a few years’ time!
We live in a land of plenty, yet in the last decade we have become increasingly aware of just how limited our marine resources actually are.
Consequently, I believe we can’t simply catch more fish to satisfy the growing demand, as this often leads to over-harvest by both recreational and commercial fishing sectors. Instead, it can be approached in three main ways: by catching and eating a more diverse range of fish; by utilising the whole fish as much as possible; and opening our minds to learning new preparation techniques, so traditional ‘bait’ or ‘trash’ fish species can be made tasty and worthwhile. The result of this would be a far greater range of eligible food species, taking the pressure off the more popular species such as snapper and cod.
For example, many ‘baitfish’ are very tasty, especially when eaten fresh, and often have large population bases that can withstand a reasonable amount of harvest pressure, making them a ‘green option’ under the Best Fish Guide.
Yelloweyed mullet are a real gem, being prolific year round throughout much of New Zealand. The smaller ones are ideal for making boquerones, a Spanish technique that adds an exotic flavour and is ideal for preserving your large catches. After soaking in white vinegar for 12-24 hours, the small fish are steeped in olive oil seasoned with herbs, enabling them to last in the fridge for a month or so afterwards. As for the larger fish, they can be smoked and are delicious.
Sprats and pilchards caught using a cast net are also top eating when fresh, thanks to the many Italian and Greek recipes available. After all, these cultures have some of the healthiest and tastiest food cuisines in the world; we can easily modify our local ingredients to take advantage of their expertise.
In addition to using a wider range of preparation techniques, we need to make the most of the fish we catch so our precious seafood resource is fully utilised. Did you know that by just using fillets, up to two-thirds of the fish by weight goes to waste, depending on the species. I believe we have to move well beyond just using the fillets, also making the most of the frames, wings
and heads – and in some cases the livers and roe. This sees more food extracted from fewer fish, so we maximise our use of the catch and get a diversity of flavours by using the off-cuts.
For example, I would like to reinforce just how tasty the wings of snapper, kingfish, kahawai and blue cod can be, and which are sometimes available from local fish markets at very cheap prices – as little as a dollar a kilogram! These wings, with the large triangles of soft flesh sealed in, are ideal for hot smoking, and are also convenient to eat when fried on the BBQ. We readily and happily eat chicken wings without giving it a second thought, so why not fish wings?
We have over 110 edible fish in New Zealand caught commercially and recreationally, plus a few other lesser-known species. Exploring these lesser known, but often equally tasty fish, is a worthwhile option; after all, it wasn’t that long ago that ‘bloody’ fish such as trevally were considered only good for bait! As a prime example, leatherjackets are available in large quantities at times, the result of inshore trawl by-catch. Sold as ‘cream fish’ for as little as $7.50 a kilo (headed and gutted), these fish have a firm flesh, a flounder-like taste, and very few small bones. I love eating leatherjackets baked whole with a herb crust.
The various warehou species are another relatively under-ultilised group. Blue warehou is a firm, large-flake fish with a meaty taste – a good substitute for snapper that’s sometimes available for a third of the price. Indeed some South Island shops sell blue warehou as ‘South Island snapper’.
Becoming aware of the seasonal availability of fish is also important. As fish does not keep for long, fish shops need to turn it over quickly, with seasonal gluts leading to reduced prices. This is often the case for blue moki, which can be available in large quantities in late autumn.
In some areas with very restrictive quotas/catch limits for species such as blue cod in force (i.e. the Marlborough Sounds), targeting a range of ‘second stringers’, such as flounder, gurnard, tarakihi, scarlet wrasse, school shark, blue warehou and trevally, will see a decent feed with a diversity of flavours put on the table. (As an aside, I personally find blue cod a little bland, and would prefer a fresh piece of tarakihi any day. A scaled tarakihi cooked whole with a mix of Asian herbs is one of my favourite fish dishes.)
OVERALL we have a responsibility to fully utilise every fish – from nose to tail – we catch and kill. Avoid the temptation to over-catch and fill the freezer with fillets; instead, explore the wide diversity of fish species available to reduce some of the pressure being placed on the more popular species and experience a wider range of flavours in the process. There really is an ocean of choice out there.
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