Tom Kitchin: ‘When I was in Europe, fish and shellfish were delivered every day from Scotland’
Just last month, at the World Fisheries Congress in Edinburgh, Prince Charles warned that Britain's national dish of fish and chips could be at risk unless we manage our fishing stocks more carefully in this country.
Most people might think that sustainable fishing and responsible sourcing are issues best left to the industry. In fact, we can all make a difference by breaking bad habits, trying new things – whether at home or at restaurants – and celebrating what we have on our own doorsteps.
The most commonly enjoyed fish in Scotland are still predominantly cod, salmon and haddock, caught in waters across the UK. Many people are therefore missing out on some excellent varieties of fish and shellfish that can actually be found locally.
I always explain to people that one of the reasons I made the decision to open my restaurant in Edinburgh was because of the wealth of high-quality produce to be found locally. When I was in Europe, working in some of the world’s top restaurants, I just couldn't believe all of the wonderful fish and shellfish that would be delivered to them every day from my Scottish homeland. Foreign seafood markets greatly value our native species.
In fact, when it comes to trying different types of fish, most people are probably more adventurous when they visit other countries. You might have tried species like megrim, whiting or hake on holiday, but in reality it was very likely landed on Scottish shores. Seafood Scotland has recently been championing ‘forgotten fish' – those species we might not instinctively reach for when cooking at home, but which are absolutely delicious and fresh from Scotland's natural larder, like langoustines, ling, squat lobster, hake and pollack.
Langoustines, also known as Norway lobsters or Dublin Bay prawns, are one of my favourite ingredients of all time, and nothing quite beats them when freshly caught and simply cooked. It breaks my heart to see so much of the catch being exported around the world because there's not enough demand for them here. As a rule, langoustines from colder waters tend to be regarded as the tastiest, which is why those caught off our coast are particularly special and taste outstanding. They contribute much to the Sottish economy, and stocks of the crustacean are well managed and sustainable, yet stocks are mainly exported to Spain, Italy and France.
If you haven't tried Scottish langoustines, you're really missing out. They are prepared in the same way as lobsters and when fresh only require to be boiled for a mere few minutes. Overcooking really can ruin the flavour and texture, so it’s important to keep boiling to a minimum. I like to enjoy langoustines in their simplest form, and you can prepare them fresh with oil and garlic or with homemade mayonnaise and a big bowl of leafy green salad. If you are inspired to try langoustines at home, the best time to buy them is between April and November, sourced from a good fishmonger.
We work hard to make our lunch menu at the restaurant affordable, so I'm constantly trying new dishes with fish such as hake, megrim, ling and pollack. The dishes are always relished by our diners and I like to think it inspires them to try something a little different when they eat out again or when they're cooking at home. A lot of these species are not too dear and very easy to prepare.
Megrim is a flat fish from the brill and turbot family – an inexpensive species that is best cooked in the same way as sole or plaice. Megrim, usually found in deep, sandy waters, is fairly cheap and is not overfished, so it’s a great one to try. It's ideal for using in fishcakes and stocks, but it's also gaining popularity for its sweet, sole-like flavour and soft texture. It makes sense to try it in all manner of dishes when it's being landed in our great Scottish ports.
Another largely forgotten species is pollack – or lythe, as its known to Scots, or colin, as it’s often referred to in France. This fish is a winner on both the sustainability and cooking fronts. Often likened to cod, it's a white flaky fish with a sweet, delicate flavour and is a beautifully versatile fish that can be enjoyed in lots of different ways.
At the restaurant, we have supported a number of initiatives, including Save the Sea and WWF Scotland's More Fish campaign, doing what we can to move towards a more sustainable and responsible approach to fishing that will allow us to enjoy a variety of species now and in the future. Even small measures can go some way to improving sustainable fishing and keeping more of our great produce here at home. Just by trying different local, seasonal, sustainable fish fresh from our Scottish seas, you can do your bit – and discover some fantastic new recipes at the same time.
2 portions Pollack (lythe)
2 bulbs fennel
½ white onion
Pastis or Pernod
Chicken stock or water
Preheat the oven to 180°C.
Remove outside leaves of the fennel, so you are left with the heart, then cut in half. Keep the outside leaves for the sauce.
Blanch the fennel heart in boiling salted water until cooked – this should take four or five minutes minutes.
Chop up the outside leaves of the fennel you trimmed earlier into pieces. Slice the half onion, then gently sweat in butter in a heavy-bottomed pan for two to three minutes.
Add the sliced fennel on top, and then sweat for another two minutes.
Add the Pastis or Pernod and then a dash of warm water or chicken stock. Cook for five or six minutes, until the fennel is soft. Place this mixture into a blender and whizz to a purée.
Heat a non-stick frying pan, then season the pollack all over with salt and pepper. Place the fish skin-side down in the pan, shaking the pan gently so the fish seals but without moving it too much.
Place the fish in the oven for one or two minutes, then remove and turn the fish over. Add a spoon of butter and, once melted, use it to baste the fish until cooked.
Remove the pollack from the pan and serve with the blanched fennel heart and the fennel purée.
1 Mergrim sole, skinned and trimmed
1 tsp capers
1 tbsp chopped parsley
You can get your fishmonger to trim the sole for you, or if you want to do it yourself then you have to trim around the fillets.
You can leave the head attached if you wish, but that will depends on the size of the fish – remember that it must be able to fit in your pan.
Skin the sole. This is quite a difficult skill so you can ask your fishmonger to skin it for you. Place the fish inside a folded cloth and pat it dry.
Meanwhile, heat up a good-quality, non-sick pan – after first checking that the sole is going to fit inside it.
Pre-heat the oven to 180°C and prepare some lemon dice, chopped parsley and capers.
Place flour on a tray and season with salt and pepper. Pat the sole into the flour and shake off any excess so that the fish is lightly floured all over – this will help to stop it sticking to the pan when cooking.
Once the pan is very hot, add a good splash of oil. Place the sole in the pan and shake it gently so that the fish starts to seal and doesn’t stick. But don’t move it too much at this point.
Cook for two to three minutes, until a nice golden colour, then turn it over and cook for another minute.
Place the fish in the oven for a further two or three minutes, then remove and place on the hob. Add a spoonful of butter to the pan and heat until it foams Baste the fish all the time with the butter.
Check the fish is cooked – a good way to test is to stick a cooking needle into the thickest part and then put it to your lips – if it comes out warm, the sole is nearly cooked.
Add the chopped lemon, parsley and capers to the foaming butter. Baste all over the fish and serve.