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Recipes for success with sustainable fish

by | Nov 25, 2014 | News | 0 comments

‘Star Fish’ is not just a collection of tasty recipes; it is underpinned by environmental imperatives too, writes Matthew Burbridge.

The ebullient Daisy Jones, author of Star Fish (Quivertree), a new book on cooking with sustainable fish, believes that consumers, by refusing to buy certain fish, have brought some change to the industry. “In the 1980s there was a video of a tuna being caught, along with dolphins, and being killed. Consumers refused to eat tuna that was caught in that manner and eventually government responded by banning that kind of tuna fishing. It starts with us; the message goes to the profiteers.”

Jones said she had been shocked to find out that some of her favourite fish – Cape salmon, kingklip, sole – were on the Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (Sassi) orange list, and said the journalist in her thought: “Here’s a story”.

Sassi was started in 2004 by World Wide Fund for Nature and aims to “empower consumers with the know-ledge so that they can make a more sustainable seafood choice”, says Janine Basson, WWF-Sassi manager.

It is by now well known that Sassi has three lists: red, under which fall species that can no longer be sustainably caught, and are illegal to sell and buy in South Africa; orange, which includes species about which there is cause for concern, either because they have been overfished or are vulnerable; and the green, which contains the best managed fish stocks and species that can handle current fishing pressure.

‘A cookbook underpinned by an environmental imperative’
The red roman, for example, is on the orange list. This fish has delayed sexual maturity and, despite being found from Coffee Bay to Cape Point, has only now started to recover after marine protection areas were established at Tsitsikamma and Gou-kamma on the Garden Route. Jones chose 10 sustainable fish from the green list. Four are locally farmed: oysters, rainbow trout, mussels and dusky kabeljou. The other six are anchovies, squid, snoek, hake, yellowtail and sardines (or other oily fish). She then started her research, in the kitchen and among those people in the sustainable fishing industry.

The book took two and half years to write, and her family and friends were treated to an extensive array of sustainable seafood dishes. It’s a unique cookbook underpinned by an environmental imperative or, as she puts it: “If the WWF and Sassi say a fish is in trouble, why be a schmuck?”

It is not just a collection of tasty recipes someone knocked up in their kitchen. It was also this month named as best cookbook of the year at the Sunday Times Cookbook Awards.

Interspersed between the recipes are stories about those in the sustainable fishing industry, such as when a fishmonger tells her the trekkers have taken two tonnes of yellowtail from Fish Hoek beach that morning. “Ask for Giem,” she’s told. She watches the catch from the windy beach; Giem wading into the water, urging his men on: “Tre-ek Tre-eKK!” as they pull on the rope. The net is dragged on to the beach. “The slapping of hundreds of live fish on the wet sand makes a sound like hard rain on a tin roof. People stand entranced, watching the fish die.”

She also visits Schalk Visser, the most successful mussel farmer in South Africa, at his mussel farm on Pepper Bay in Saldanha. He grows his mussels on green nylon ropes, which become so densely packed “that you wouldn’t be able to get your arms round it”.

Many of the recipes are not brand-new, and some have been adapted and tweaked from cooks such as Nigella Lawson and Jamie Oliver. As Jones says, it’s not as if she could “reinvent fish in a beer batter”. I did, however, find it helpful to have all these fish recipes in one book. If you’ve just bought one of the sustainable fish, you’ll find something exciting to do with it, such as snoek samoosas with dhania sauce; sesame seed yellowtail; or even a fake tuna melt jaffle.

Family-style recipes
Jones did invent the tuna rice salad “when she was about 10”. It even has pink sauce, made with mayo and tomato sauce. Other recipes she is proud of are the poached haddock on bubble and squeak and her adaptation of salad niçoise: two types of fish – anchovy, canned tuna, black olives, potato, onion and strong green herbs. She also “had a good go” at the smoked snoek pâté.

These are family-style recipes and, as she says, are not for a dinner party: they are “Dinner. Or lunch”. I tried the “very versatile yellowtail vindaloo” that worked very nicely, the piquant sauce staining the chunks of yellowtail. A colleague also spoke highly of the creamy fish pie, with, among other things, frozen haddock, double cream and mature cheddar. By way of a disclaimer, Jones and I are friends, having met as reporters for another newspaper a long time ago, and in the book she mentions an anchovy pasta I made while on a hike.

On a hike, and in the book, there are always plenty of opportunities to crack jokes. As she scoffs: “A long list of ingredients? You call that a lot of prep. I call it a chance to spend time with my man Billy Joel.”

Where to buy, how to cook

Fish Shops – Cape Town
The Little Fisherman: Weeks after visiting my friend in Cape Town, he torments me with SMSes from the Little Fisherman advertising their specials. There are two branches, one in Lakeside and the other in Newlands. I have bought huge chunks of tuna, yellowtail and salmon from the Lakeside branch. I have never seen better fish. Newlands (021 794 5526), Lakeside (021 788 3583)
Fish 4 Africa: A small, and when I visited, smelly shop in Woodstock that was well stocked with hake, tuna and yellowtail. They also have frozen calamari and mussels. (021 448 5258)

Full story see Mail & Guardian

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