Expert chef Nathan Outlaw knows his fish. So what should we be eating? He picks out his favourite underused British fish species.
We’re with Nathan Outlaw all the way when it comes to this statement: “Fish is the greatest convenience food in the world”. Many species take mere minutes to cook, or even less – ready-smoked mackerel, salmon and trout can be flaked into a simple instant salad, and fish can even be eaten raw. But as a nation, we’re stuck on salmon and traditional white fish, despite our native waters holding so many underused, sustainable species. It’s time to break the habit, and Nathan is here to help – try seeking out one of his favourite British fish varieties.
Nathan’s top British fish picks…
Nathan says: “One underrated flat fish is the megrim sole. It’s more similar to lemon sole than Dover sole, and they’re good served whole to feed two people, although I think the best way is skinned and deep-fried. It’s also a really good introduction fish for children as there are very few bones once you’ve taken out the central bone.”
Use in place of… lemon sole
Nathan says: “If you see wild bream in fishmongers, buy it. It’s quite new to our waters – it has migrated from the Mediterranean as our waters have warmed, and it’s now native to the UK. The good thing about it is that you can have it raw or cured as well. My favourite way is cured in a wet brine of salt, sugar and liquid, such as a splash of alcohol. Leave it for a couple of hours and serve it with something pickled or some horseradish cream.”
Use in place of… Sea bass
Nathan says: “Coley is perfect for fish burgers or cakes, or any fish recipe where protein is required [for binding]. A good thing to do is marinade it too – its mild flavour needs helping along. If you just grilled it, it might not have much flavour."
Use in place of… Cod
Nathan says: “These tubular creatures can be quite sandy – they’re caught by using a salt water mixture to coax them upwards out of the sand. Once washed, they’re delicious ceviched – they shouldn’t be too tough. Or, steam them in a nice big pan with a splash of wine, beer or water."
Use in place of… Mussels
Nathan says: “This has a really unique flavour. I’d serve it pan-fried or grilled, and it can really handle some strong flavours, for instance accompanied by a red wine sauce, mushrooms, saffron or peppers. It’s naturally quite an oily fish, but it works well deep-fried too."
Use in place of… Red mullet
Nathan says: “Gurnard for me is the kind of fish you can cook whole on the bone and it makes a really good fish soup as it has a lot of body to it – it’s firmness makes it similar to cod.”
Use in place of… Halibut
More fish know-how…
A note on buying sustainable British fish
We advocate visiting your local fishmonger to find the most variety; supermarket fish counters tend to offer mackerel, salmon and trout and sometimes not much else beyond. However, if you ask nicely, most counters will be able to order you one of the above varieties, depending on availability. Whichever fish you’re buying, the fishmonger should be able to tell you exactly where it came from, as all that information is officially documented.
A tip on cooking fish
Nathan says: “Make sure you have everything else ready, as the fish will only take minutes to cook. Once the fish is cooking, you can't run around trying to get your sauce done.”
A note on using up the whole fish
Nathan says: “Fish soup is good for using up all parts of the fish. Also, chefs use a lot of roe, for instance herring roe, which is lovely panfried. Smoked cod roe is good too – a really simple dish is to take some old bread and soak it in milk. Add some olive oil and the roe and you have a very simple taramasalata. It’s quite a big job to make it yourself, especially smoked versions, so buy it ready prepared. Also, on the fish head there are all sorts of little pockets of flesh. I’ve also seen fish livers being used, for instance monkfish liver pate.”
Fish to avoid…
For a full rundown of unsustainable fish, plus a tool to check up on whether your canned, frozen or fresh fish is ethical, visit the Marine Stewardship Council website.