When it comes to fish and seafood, sustainability is the word on everybody’s lips. Lisa Jenkins discovers how operators can adapt their menus
The annual Marine Stewardship Council’s (MSC) Sustainable Awards and Forum, held at Fishmonger’s Hall in London earlier this month, brought together a panel of experts and specialists in seafood, to shine a light on some of the best suppliers of fresh and frozen fish and shellfish in the UK.
Foodservice suppliers among the winners included Brakes, which was awarded MSC UK Foodservice Wholesaler of the Year, and cited as having the largest volume and most extensive range of MSC seafood products on offer to the foodservice sector. M&J Seafood was named Fresh Foodservice Wholesaler of the Year for its large range and volume of MSC-certified species and was presented with a trophy by chef-restaurateur Mitch Tonks.
Tonks, owner of Rockfish restaurants in Devon and Dorset, and the Seahorse in Dartmouth, has committed himself to the use of a mixed catch by partnering with local fisherman Nick Rich.
“It always made sense to me to have a fish restaurant with its own fishing boat catching the day’s menu, and it always seemed a magical thing to make happen,” says Tonks.
“However, you quickly learn that it’s not as easy as that. First, you need to be a fisherman. It’s not just a case of throwing nets over the side and up come the fish – it’s highly skilled. You also need to be able to process the fish, gutting, skinning, filleting, etc.
“I never lost sight of the dream, though, and I have now teamed up with a like-minded young fisherman, who loves and cares for his catch as much as I love working with seafood. We’ve come to an arrangement that means we will take all the fish that the boat catches. As a business we have our own cutting room staffed by skilled fishmongers, led by Lee Morgan, who was once one of our head chefs. He and his team will prepare the fish and send it to the restaurants immediately after landing. It’s a totally unique way of a fisherman and restaurateur working hand-in-hand, financially and environmentally.”
Chef-restaurateur Cyrus Todiwala is championing UK produce in the shape of Cornish langoustine. He is an ambassador for the Shellfish Association of Great Britain, as well as the chef-ambassador for the Marine Conservation Society.
“Most people are not aware that Cornwall lands the most amazing langoustines and that they are fished in the same water as the more well-known Scottish ones,” Todiwala explains. “The lorries get loaded at Newlyn Quay with tonnes of Cornish langoustine. They are then taken to Peterhead in Scotland to be graded, processed and packed, before being sold as Scottish langoustines.
“Mike Warner [project and business development manager for the Shellfish Association of Great Britain] has recruited a few of us chefs to try and stop this madness. What a colossal waste of energy, time, money and damage to the environment!”
Alongside Warner, Todiwala is promoting frozen at sea (FAS) Cornish langoustines, which are trawl-caught by a purpose-built, in-shore twin-rig freezer trawler, fishing in the Celtic Sea. As well as making these seasonally caught fish available all year round, freezing at sea ensures maximum product quality.
John Ashmore, marketing director for Europe, Middle-East and Africa at Clearwater Seafoods, also adopts the frozen at sea method: “Clearwater prides itself on being a leading innovator in today’s seafood industry. We freeze products directly on board Clearwater vessels, moments after harvesting, to develop raw, frozen formats that lock in freshness and taste.”
Clearwater’s Canadian sea scallops are MSC certified, shucked and frozen at sea within an hour of catch, without any additives or chemicals. Ashmore cites research showing that FAS scallops outperform land-frozen scallops on drip loss, cooked yield, flavour, texture, appearance and shelf life.
Through a specialised high-pressure extraction process, raw lobster meat is released from its shell and then frozen in a variety of formats, giving chefs the versatility to prepare this product in several applications. “Without the inconvenience of cooking and shelling live lobster,” adds Ashmore.
Celestine Cheong, senior communications lead for the Norwegian Seafood Council, says: “Freezing food is one of the oldest preservation methods. For centuries it has been used to prolong the availability of food over winter. The nature of freezing does not require added preservatives, as microorganisms do not grow when the temperature is below -9.5ºC. ”
Direct Seafoods is encouraging chefs to keep up to date with the latest advice on sustainable fish and seafood species through new online resources. With guidance changing regularly, according to factors such as the time of the year and the quantity of specific species being landed, director of sustainability Laky Zervudachi warns chefs and operators that they need to be committed to stay on track.
He says: “A sustainability programme isn’t something operators can simply sign up to and ‘tick the box’. Any list of fish and seafood species is a snapshot, as the situation changes all the time. It can depend on the breeding season, changes to quotas and simply the size of the catch, among other factors.”
“The Marine Conservation Society Good Fish Guide provides up-to-date guidance on which species should be avoided and which are OK to eat. We use this as a main reference point for our teams.”
Calum Richardson, founder and owner of the Bay Fish & Chips in Stonehaven, believes in sharing his sustainability knowledge with his local community. The Bay’s recent event included more than 75 Stonehaven residents, aged from eight to 80, pledging to become Green Champions, learning about the importance of protecting the ocean from plastics. The Green Champions initiative, which was piloted by Aberdeenshire council, is designed to equip people with the knowledge and skills to make eco-friendly choices every day.
Tuna accounts for 17% of fish dishes sold in foodservice each year, including 6,250 tonnes of tuna in sandwiches alone. Of the world’s tuna, 22% is now MSC certified as sustainable; however, through its Sustainable Tuna Handbook, the MSC says that increased pressure on stocks and ecosystems, conflicting sustainability credentials and publicity campaigns can make sourcing sustainable tuna a minefield.
Last summer, Premier Inn’s restaurant brand Beefeater introduced a MSC-certified tuna steak. All Premier Inn brands, including Beefeater, Brewer’s Fayre and Table Table, now feature the MSC ‘blue tick’ on menus. The chain gained MSC certification in 2017 and passed the three million portion mark last year.
And Lussmanns Fish & Grill restaurants offer a 100% MSC-certified fish menu, currently the only restaurant in the UK to do so, with nine dishes, including the first MSC- certified monkfish and ling in UK foodservice.
Brindisa has a range of fish and seafood products, including Nortindal cuttlefish ink made in the Basque country, which comes in 500g jars for caterers. Steamed octopus tentacles are fished in the waters off the coast of Morocco and prepared in Galicia on the north-western coast of Spain.
The Artis Seafood Collection brings together a range of tableware products designed specially for seafood. The Martini Glass Seafood Bubble is a two-piece seafood dish with space in the bottom part for ice, and the Ceraflame round-eared dish is ideal for fish pies that can be placed directly from the freezer into the oven.
Seafish UK’s Seafood Week, from 4-11 October, offers the industry a week to promote the wide range of seafood products available in the UK and to publicise the benefits of eating fish and shellfish.
The campaign provides businesses with a pack with information and ideas on what they can do as part of the event. In previous years this has included events, competitions, giveaways and social media drives.
Schools of fish
The 2019 UK Young Seafood Chef of the Year competition, held annually at the Grimsby Institute, saw two young chefs from Kendal College crowned winners.
Albert Hindson, 19, from Sedbergh, and Sebastian Bloor, 20, from Kendal, beat eight other teams from across the country.
Daniel Clifford, chef-patron of two-Michelin-starred Midsummer House in Cambridge, who judged the competition, was impressed with all the competitors: “It was great to see a good number of the chefs on the day displaying some strong filleting skills, and it was encouraging to see such talent on show in this area,” he says.
“Filleting fish is such a fundamental skill that it should be taught to anyone thinking of entering a kitchen. We are spoiled by the premium seafood and fish ingredients that we have in the UK and showcasing the products at their best starts with careful preparation and handling before they even reach the pan.
“The UK Young Seafood Chef of the Year competition, organised by Seafish, gives young chefs a chance to shine and boost their future career, and it was quite inspirational to see the drive to succeed.”
Clifford adds: “It was a fierce competition between some very skilled and talented young chefs. In some of them, I saw that same ambition and fire that I had at their age. That’s reassuring. It’s what I look for in new chefs – that passion for their craft and an eagerness to learn.”
Direct Seafoods’ Laky Zervudachi offers the following sustainability tips:
• Work with suppliers that care about the oceans.
• Make the provenance and sustainability of the fish and seafood you serve a selling point, using menus and specials boards to tell customers where and when it was caught.
• Ask your fishmonger or wholesaler exactly what you are buying and check guides such as: www.mcsuk.org/goodfishguide/search
• Make sure all chefs and the front of house team know about the sustainable seafood you use on your menu so they can answer customer questions. Ensure they understand issues such as the difference between farmed and non-farmed fish.
• Consider farmed species over wild fish where available. Aquaculture is increasingly important to food sustainability. Chefs should check for proper certification, such as the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) standards (www.asc-aqua.org).
The Bay Fish and Chips www.thebayfishandchips.co.uk
Direct Seafoods www.directseafoods.co.uk
The Seahorse www.seahorserestaurant.co.uk
Shellfish Association of Great Britain www.shellfish.org.uk