|Clark Bros, Musselburgh.|
Of all the ingredients with which I love to both cook and to eat, fish and shellfish have to rate amongst my favourite. The different tastes and textures to be had from the bounty dwelling in our seas, lochs and rivers are immense. And if properly fished or farmed – and increasingly these days, that is a big “if” – fish and shellfish must count amongst the most sustainable and natural food products to be had.
I’m always a little surprised when some people seem to be a bit squeamish about buying and preparing seafood – but then I was a marine biologist in a previous incarnation. Maybe such trepidation has to do with the alien-like form it can exhibit; all tentacles, shells, antennae and/or bulging eyes. Or possibly it is because people struggle to differentiate between what is fresh and what has exceeded its “shelf life”.
For those nervous about preparing seafood there are some great guides available. In terms of ensuing that what you are buying is good, fresh fish and shellfish just turn detective and use your instincts. Do the eyes and skin of the fish look bright and moist as opposed to dull and dry? Lift the flaps around the neck of the fish and inspect the gills – they should be bright red and not greying. If you pick a fish up it should be stiff and not floppy. Does your fish have a sweet, salty “fresh out of the sea” smell as opposed to a strong ammoniacal odour? Similar rules apply to shellfish, and never buy any bivalves – clams, mussels, scallops – that don’t close their shells tightly when tapped.
And whilst not wishing to be dismissive of supermarkets entirely – some have reasonable fish counters – I would recommend buying your aquatic produce somewhere local, independent, and with staff that can hopefully inform you of exactly when and where that monkfish you have your eye on was caught, and that he’s called Burt… Seriously though, a good local fishmonger will be able to tell you which wholesale market each batch of fish or shellfish has originated from, and if the produce is locally derived, or has been sourced from further afield.
Residing in Scotland, I am fortunate to live in one of the best fish and shellfish-producing countries in the world. Scottish coastal waters are bountiful with a great range of seafood. However, in common with many other countries, not all our fisheries – of fish farms – can be considered sustainable, with certain stocks coming under pressure and some production methods resulting in environmental damage. If you want to ensure the fish or shellfish you are buying is sustainable, be sure to visit the Marine Conservation Society’s online Good Fish Guide.
|Dover sole & turbot.|
Being Edinburgh-based, I’m lucky to have some great independent fishmongers a beach pebble’s throw away from where I live. One of my favourites is Clark Brothers. Situated just outside Edinburgh’s city limits on the edge of Musselburgh’s harbour (220 New Street, EH21 6DJ), this fantastic fish merchant has been selling quality produce for nearly 100 years.
The shop is always packed with a fantastically good range of produce, and is constantly busy with customers eager to purchase it. Traditional fish varieties – such as Scottish cod and haddock – rub fins with more exotic specimens, including John Dory, organically farmed seat trout and monkfish cheeks.
|John Dory, clams & prawns.|
There is also a great range of shellfish – mussels, langoustines, scallops and oysters of course, but also spoots (or razor shells, to non-Scots speakers) and surf clams. Shellfish commonly used in Southeast Asian cooking is also available, as well as both live and cooked Scottish crab and lobster.
And for anyone needing a little culinary inspiration, Clark Brothers also sell their own, pre-prepared dishes, such as smoked haddock and spring onion fishcakes, and rainbow trout fillets marinated in orange and dill.
|Sea trout, oysters & squid.|
The Clark Brothers staff are both knowledgeable and helpful, so don’t be afraid to quiz them if you need advice on buying or preparing your fish or shellfish. It’s also great to see the fishmongers at work processing and filleting produce as it arrives from the market – the prep area is visible through large windows behind the shop floor. And finally, if you like your fish smoked Clark Brothers cater for this with their own small, onsite smokery.
Watch out for my next blog post, where I shall be cooking with some great seafood purchased at Clark Brothers.