Off the east coast of Northumberland lies the North Sea which is known for its abundant sea life and fishing history. Everyone knows about the cod, haddock and salmon we are known for around these parts. But what about the lesser known edible sea creatures, we may try in restaurants but fear to try at home? Or even the old-fashioned varieties such as potted shrimp and kippers.
Northumberland’s fishing history brought an abundance of wealth to the area in times gone by. The river Tweed is world famous for its salmon and trout. The river, which is nearly 100 miles long, zig-zags across the Anglo-Scottish Border and meets the sea at Berwick-upon-Tweed.
The fish industry has been hit hard across media outlets, with the focus over-fishing, chemicals found in marine life and plastic as a constant threat. National schemes such as Fish Fight have tried to impact the way we eat fish and how we cook it. It is difficult to know what to buy, what to avoid, and then how to cook it. Many of us are unsure of how to effectively cook fish, not have the ‘smell’ infiltrating every room in the house and where to buy fish from a reputable source.
Like most things, fish is a seasonal product. For instance, herring is best caught in the last months of the year, while scallops are best in the summer. Unfortunately, we are not adventurous in fish consumption. Over 3/4 of the fish we eat is the big five: salmon cod, haddock, tuna and prawns; we can’t produce enough to satisfy demand, so a lot is imported. The only way to solve this is to diversify what we eat. The fish which is easy to get locally includes sea trout, brown trout, sea bass, grey mullet as well as shellfish such as crabs, lobsters, mussels and oysters.
No Trout about it: Fish is Good for your Health
Most people eat fish in regards to personal well-being. Recent health campaigns have tooted fish to be rich in omega 3 fatty acids, as well as calcium, and a low-fat protein. The general advice is to consume fish twice a week, with at least 1 portion being oily fish.
Humans have consumed shellfish for hundreds of thousands of years. Shellfish are ridiculously high in micronutrients; such as selenium, zinc, iodine and copper and usually contain lower levels of toxic metals like mercury. The lower down the food chain the fish is, the less likely they are to contain toxic metals. Shellfish, too, is not only a healthy protein alternative in our diets, they are essential for the ocean’s health. Shellfish aren’t predators, how they survive is by filtering the water around them. The ocean is their food.
Buying local shellfish is also a less invasive form of fishing and less likely to upset the ecosystems. Some fish farms are artificially altered for whatever fish is farmed, but this has implications on the local wildlife already there. Switching a weekly meat portion for local fish, especially local shellfish, could help reduce your carbon footprint.
Smoked fish has been an established part of our diets since the mid 14th century. Smoking fish, like jarred preserves, was invented before refrigeration and was a way of keeping food fresh, with health benefits. And not to forget the humble white fish, the one we’ve all eaten and enjoyed. White fish is a classic example of a low-fat protein option and is a fish we all know how to cook and eat.
Seafood is the best dietary form of vitamin D for us to eat, which is handy as vitamin D is essential for the absorption of calcium, of which fish have a high content of, especially the smaller fish where you can eat the bones. Eating fish is also said to be good for fighting the signs of ageing. This could be due to its extensive mineral content, and its high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, especially the oily fish such as herring, which we are all aware are essential for heart and brain health. Perhaps instead of buying an anti-wrinkle cream, pile your plate with fish!
All-in-all it seems everyone could benefit from a bit of fresh fish. The vast majority of the nation suffer needlessly as a result of too few micronutrients in their diets. It is thought that improving intake of fish would help with deficiencies in vitamin D and minerals such as selenium and iodine, which are essential for a functioning thyroid.
It is important to rotate what fish to buy and consume. Here is a different selection of fish you can get from around Northumberland, as an alternative to the usual cod.
Fin Dining with the Local Fisheries
Oysters are renowned as the food of lovers; an aphrodisiac and Cassonova’s favourite dish. There is truth behind the legend. Oysters are high in the mineral zinc, which is believed to be essential for eradicating those ‘behind the fly problems’ men encounter.
The oyster beds at Lindisfarne have been there since the monks started farming them in the 12th century. The Sutherland family have been farming since the 1930s which diversified to include oysters in the late 1980s. The oysters there are Pacific oysters and are identified by their pretty, frill-ended shells.
Lindisfarne Oysters can boast being the only oyster farm in Northumberland. Their oysters are sold in various restaurants around the county and you can buy them from many local fishmongers. Also, the oysters can be purchased via Lindisfarne Oysters online shop. Once harvested, they are purified at the family farm for 42 hours. This helps to rid them of bacteria they can possibly contain due to them constantly filtering seawater; they can filter up to 50 gallons a day!
One popular myth about eating oysters is that you should only consume them in months with the letter “r” in it. This is partly due to the lack of refrigeration techniques in days of old, as well as the fact that the summer months are typically breeding seasons.
Fresh oysters are recommended to be eaten raw with a squeeze of lemon and a dash of Tabasco.
L Robson & Sons is a 4th generation family fishing business, which been going since the early 1900s. Their main product ‘Craster Kippers’ are world-renowned and are acclaimed to be the best in Britain! The smokehouse is nestled in the middle of the small fishing village of Craster, overlooking Dunstanburgh Castle. The fish is cured smoked in the original smokehouse and is sold in the fish shop next door to the smokehouse; which is popular with both locals and visitors.
Kippers are a product rich in omega-3s, vitamin D and calcium. Kippers were a typical breakfast or teatime food in the good old days. Herrings are a sustainably caught fish. Kippers are smoked over oak chips. By dipping the herrings in brine, and in the smoking process, the kippers showcase a beautiful metallic sheen; golds, silvers, bronzes. The process of herring to kipper shows that sometimes you cannot improve on the original. This process is known as ‘kippering’.
Unfortunately, herring fishing isn’t a reality along the North East English coast. This is partly due to fishing laws and restrictions that have affected most coastal towns around the UK. Most herring are shipped from Iceland or Norway (so it is technically still fish from the North Sea). The herring from Nordic zones are typically bigger and heavier, providing a more filling kipper for your dish.
Instead of buying the fish from the shop and cooking it yourself, you can experience fine dining at the Craster Restaurant, adjacent to the smokehouse, and enjoy local fish on a dish and served with a smile.
The best way to enjoy a kipper? The jug method. Dip your kipper into a jug of boiling water, and leave for 4 minutes. Serve with fresh, thick-cut brown toast and butter and a poached egg.
One great resource we have up North is Northumberland Seafood, located in Amble, which aims to help local fisherman, as well as customers – private and public, to source local fish and discover new types of seafood. The fear of something new is ingrained from our ancestry. We are naturally cautious beings, especially in regards to food. The relationship between fisherman, fishmonger and the public, has rapidly disappeared from modern life. The supermarket counter and vacuum-packed fish just doesn’t cut the mustard. The Northumberland Seafood scheme puts local fish back on the plate, whilst also embracing environmentally focused ethos.
The Northumberland Seafood Centre is a project aiming to put Northumberland fish on the map; locally, nationally and globally and to support the local fisheries around the county. It is mostly crabs and lobsters that can be sourced locally, but when weather permits, as well as the fishing seasons, Northumberland Seafood are able to bring a bigger catch of fish to shore.
As part of the Creel Club, there is a fish box scheme which you can personalise by frequency, fish, shellfish and pickup place.
Based in Seahouses, a once bustling fishing town, is Swallow Fish Ltd, one of the oldest smokehouses in the UK today. Swallow Fish Ltd source local, and seasonal, fish when they can for the people of north Northumberland. Swallow Fish have a village shop which demonstrates the fishing history which spans nearly 200 years that has made the town what it is today. There are old photographs of the fishermen and fishwives of days gone. Swallow Fish Ltd is proud of the tradition and is keen to keep it going. There are still the original smokehouses that have been there since the 1840s. The same traditional methods of smoking fish are still used there, so there is no need for artificial tampering.
Seahouses, a community from the nascent fishing industry of North Sunderland., gets its name from the ‘sea-end houses’ where the fishwives would ‘kip’. The houses were conveniently remote from the main village because of the strong smell of fish and the smokehouse.
Swallow Fish Ltd offer seasonal fish from the North Sea. The Fishermans Kitchen welcomes visitors who wish to know more about Seahouses history in the fishing industry. They offer a range of fresh, smoked and shellfish. Swallow Fish have been acknowledged by the Great Taste Awards including a gold star for their kipper pate. Rick Stein, the celebratory chef, is also a fan of Swallow Fish and they featured in his Food Heroes series.
You can purchase fish from Swallow Fish by visiting their shop in Seahouses, and they also have an online shop.
Come Out of Your Shell
Time to try something different instead of the usual cod and chips? Discover the local fish scene, and find that you can eat seasonally and dine on fresh, delicious fruit de mer. Support the local fish scene from the 5th – 12th October 2018 for National Seafood Week. Join the conversation on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.