White and oily fish are both rich in protein, and oily fish contain vitamin D which helps develop good teeth and strong bones. It is often prescribed to pregnant women and young children in the form of cod liver oil.
Although we are surrounded by waters which are extensively fished, it is difficult to buy fresh fish in many parts of the country. However, fish commercially frozen is very good: because it is frozen soon after being caught this does not affect its flavour drastically. Keep it in its pack and store in the freezing compartment of your refrigerator for the recommended length of time. Once thawed, do not re-freeze.
If you are lucky enough to have a good fishmonger, use his skills. It is not difficult to gut and fillet fish yourself, but the fishmonger has the sharp filleting knives and the expertise to do it quickly and professionally. Fresh fish doesn’t keep well: if possible, cook and eat it the day you buy it. In any case put the fish in your refrigerator, covered for safe storage.
Cured fish, from the expensive delicate salmon to the breakfast kipper, has been enjoyed in Great Britain for centuries. Look for it in a good delicatessen as well as on the fishmonger’s slab. It is also available frozen.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
White and Oily fish When you buy fresh fish, look for brightness. The eyes should be prominent, the gills red, the scales sparkling. The body should be firm and there must be a fresh smell.
Cured fish Look for plumpness. Smoked fish which is curling around the edges and looks dry has probably been kept for too long.
- Bass A round fish with delicate flesh.Bake or poach a large fish; grill or fry smaller ones.
- Bream Sea bream is a round fish, with coarse scales. It has sweet, tender flesh. Bake larger fish with a stuffing; grill or fry smaller fish.
- Brill A firm, white, flat fish which looks like a turbot and has a similar but less succulent taste. Bake, grill or poach.
- Cod Cod is round, with close, white flesh and a mild flavour. It is usually bought in steaks or as fillets. Grill, bake or fry.
- Coley A fish which is always sold filleted. When raw, the flesh is greyish, but becomes white after cooking. Because cod has become expensive, coley is often used instead. You can fry, grill or bake it.
- Dab and Flounder Part of the plaice family, with soft, white, sweet flesh. Grill, fry or bake.
- Dogfish Also called flake, huss and rig, this is a firm-fleshed member of the shark family. It used to be known, incorrectly, as ‘rock salmon’. Use it in casseroles, soups and fish stocks.
- Haddock Part of the cod family. Buy it whole, or in cuts or fillets. It has firm, fine-textured white flesh. Bake, grill or fry.
- Hake A member of the cod family. Cook as for cod and enhance its taste with a well-flavoured sauce.
- Halibut A large, flat fish, most often sold in cutlets. Bake whole, with a stuffing; fry, grill or poach. Mock halibut is smaller.
- Plaice One of the most popular fish in this country. It has a greyish upper side with bright orange spots and a white underside. Plaice has soft, sweet flesh. Use it whole, fried or grilled, or filleted. You may use plaice in recipes which call for the more expensive sole.
- Rockfish Also known as catfish. Look for firm, pinkish-coloured flesh; use for fish stews and soups.
- Skate A flat fish with large ‘wings’ — the part we eat. The sweet flesh comes away from the bones easily; grill or fry in butter.
- Sole Dover sole is often thought to be the best of all white fish. Its flavour is delicate but not insipid; its flesh firm but creamy. Grilled, fried on the bone, or filleted, sole is often served with a sauce. Dover sole is oval, its upper side is brownish, with irregular black markings; its underside is white. Ask your fishmonger to skin it. Lemon and witch soles are cheaper. Their flavour is not quite as good but they are excellent value: fry, grill or poach them. Serve with a sauce.
- Turbot A large flat fish, with a creamy flavour; cook as for halibut, preferably whole.
- Whiting A round fish, part of the cod family. Whiting is bony, but has soft, flaky flesh and a delicate flavour. Bake, fry or poach it.
- Carp A freshwater fish which can taste muddy. To prevent this, soak for about three hours beforehand in salted water. Especially good stuffed and baked.
- Conger eel A saltwater fish with a greyish black skin. It has a distinctive flavour and is ideal for stews, soups and fish kebabs.
- Herring A small, oily fish with creamy-coloured flesh. Bought whole, it is often brushed with melted butter, seasoned, sprinkled with oatmeal and grilled or fried.
- Mackerel A cheap, tasty saltwater fish. It is round, with a silvery underside and a blue and green striped upperside. It is usually grilled, but you can stuff and bake it. Cut its slightly oily flavour with a gooseberry or apple sauce.
- Mullet (grey) This is a large estuary fish with firm flesh.
- Small grey mullet are best grilled and served with savoury butter, and larger ones, stuffed and baked.
- Mullet (red) A uniquely flavoured red-skinned saltwater fish, best grilled or baked and served with butter, lemon and seasoning.
- Perch Requires careful cleaning. Remove hard scales by plunging into boiling water. Best grilled and served with melted butter.
- Pike A freshwater fish of great size and very coarse flesh. Prepare by soaking, and then boil, or bake with a stuffing. Pike is traditionally used in quenelles.
- Pilchard Large sardine, often sold in cans. Pilchards make very economical fish dishes.
- Salmon A migratory fish sold as steaks or whole. Excellent poached and garnished with cucumber, sprigs of parsley and lemon wedges, and delicious served cold with mayonnaise.
- Sardine Sardines are young pilchards which are usually bought canned in oil or tomato sauce, but may also be bought fresh. If canned, serve cold or grilled on toast.
- Smelt or sparling Small strong-tasting fish, which is best rolled in breadcrumbs and deep fried.
- Sprat Small fish similar to herrings, but silver-skinned. Young sprats, known as brislings, are canned in oil or tomato sauce. If you buy them fresh, flour, deep fry and sprinkle with lemon juice and black pepper.
- Trout (rainbow) This is the most common. It has creamy flesh and is best grilled and served with maitre d’hôtel butter, or fried and served with almonds.
- Trout (river or brown) Distinguished from rainbow trout by its darker skin.
- Trout (sea or salmon) A pink-fleshed fish, salmon-like in flavour. Cook in the same way.
- Whitebait Very small herring or sprat, about 4 cm (1 ½ in) in length and silver-skinned. Especially good coated in flour and deep fried until crisp, served with lemon juice, salt and pepper.