Alex Talks Diet: Enjoy your catch of the day in a tasty yet sustainable way + My fishy treat in Bishop's Stortford + My recipe for flexible fish cakes
Alex Ballard, who grew up in Bishop's Stortford and works as a specialist community dietitian for the NHS in West Essex, writes a fortnightly column, Diet Talk, in the Stortford Indie about taking small steps towards a healthier lifestyle...
Fish has always played a large role in British food history, with classics including prawn cocktail, sardines on toast and, the public's favourite, fish and chips. Even the English-born Worcestershire sauce uses anchovies for a punchy component.
Alongside the versatile flavours, contrasting textures and rich colours, fish provides us with nourishing dietary sources of protein, calcium, iodine, selenium and vitamin D.
Fish, and especially oily fish, is also a main supplier of omega-3. In recent years, this family of fats has been placed on a pedestal, with research showing that adequate intakes can reduce the risk of heart disease, improve inflammation, preserve memory and prevent depression.
We are therefore encouraged to consume two portions of fish per week, including one of an oily variety, such as mackerel, kippers, sardines, salmon, trout, sprats, herring, whitebait and pilchards.
Tinned fish can also provide omega-3, but just take a peek at the label first. An adult-size portion is either 140g of fresh fish (roughly the size of the palm of your hand) or one small can.
Shark, swordfish and marlin can contain concentrated sources of mercury and, consequently, should be avoided by women who are pregnant or planning a baby, and by all children under 16. All other adults, including breastfeeding women, should limit these particular species to a maximum of one portion per week.
If fish is off your menu, alternative omega-3 rich foods include nuts and seeds, rapeseed and linseed oil, soya products, green leafy vegetables and omega-3 enriched eggs, breads, yoghurts and spreads.
Despite the wealth of benefits this natural food source offers, making sensible and environmentally-friendly choices is critical for the fate of our oceans. Currently, global fish production is nearing its sustainable limit and exploitation has increased threefold since the 1970s. Here are some simple tips to help prevent stock depletion and clear consumer conscience...
- Cut back if your household consumes more than the recommended weekly amount and instead up your plant-based protein game with more beans, pulses, nuts, seeds and tofu.
- Plenty more fish in the sea! There's a whole ocean to enjoy, so help give stocks a chance to replenish by mixing up your weekly shopping list and rotating between a large variety of seasonal options.
- Use less conventional alternatives; for example, by switching cod and haddock for coley and hake, using mackerel rather than tuna and opting for UK rope-grown mussels over prawns.
- Stocks of smaller, non-predatory fish (such as sardines and anchovies) swim lower down the food chain and often replenish quicker than larger, predatory species.
- Support ethical fishing practices by looking out for and purchasing products with MSC (Marine Stewardship Council), RSPCA and ASC certified labels.
- Where possible, choose organically-farmed seafood as this tends to allow fish more movement space and uses responsibly-sourced feed.
- Check out the Marine Conservation Society Good Fish Guide or app for an up-to-date ranking system on the sustainability of more than 150 different species of fish all over the world – go for green, limit amber and avoid red.
- Keep informed about the issues facing our seas by regularly visiting the Marine Stewardship Council website.
- Buy British products to help reduce the food miles from water to plate.
- When eating fish out, enquire about which menu options have been sourced closest to your dining location.
- Get chatting with local fishmongers to keep up to date on seasonal choices, fish sourcing policies, travel miles and cooking tips (F.E. Tucker and Sons mobile fish van, Potter Street Fishmongers and supermarket fish counters).
- Avoid binning any edible fish by keeping on top of use-by dates, freezing options before they go off, purchasing and cooking only what you require and incorporating today's leftovers into tomorrow's meals.
- Cut back on plastic as decreasing usage on land helps to reduce the plastic floating in our waters. Say no, reuse or reduce.
- When you are visiting the coast (or the River Stort!), set aside a small amount of time for a clean-up. Look out for organised National Trust and MSC events.
- A massive cause of micro plastics sinking into our oceans is from car tyre flakes. Whenever possible, walk, cycle or get public transport.
- Involve and educate children so that they learn to respect the ocean from day dot and tactfully spread these positive messages to your family, friends and colleagues and on social media.
Alex's local treat: Tucker's fish van in Bishop's Stortford
F.E. Tucker & Sons is a third generation business that has been up and sailing since 1956. They own the oldest mobile fish units in East Anglia and have watched the traditional market town streets of Bishop's Stortford evolve over the last 42 years.
Trevor and his sons, Andrew and Daren, are passionate about providing superior-quality seafood directly from the coast which is often weeks fresher than supermarket options.
They are based in Great Yarmouth and pride themselves on 99% of the fish they sell being sourced straight from British waters. Not only this, but they can tell you who caught the lobsters and dressed the crabs!
With the ocean as their office, this father-and-sons collaboration can help guide you towards seasonal and sustainable options every month of the year. Plaice is a good choice to plate up for your fish supper. It is versatile and can be baked with a squeeze of lemon, delicately mixed into a fish stew or stir fried alongside pak choi.
Grab yourself the catch of the day on Thursdays, Fridays or Saturdays outside Host in Stortford (ditch the plastic wrap and take a Tupperware box).
Alex's recipe for flexible fish cakes
With stock shortages, shelf wipe-outs and store cupboard dinners, now is a time for adaptable recipes that use a little to go a long way.
- 600g potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
- 3 tbsp chopped fresh herbs, e.g. parsley, coriander, dill, basil
- 2 x 120g cans sardines in olive oil, drained (or similar amount of any tinned fish)
- 1 small lemon, juiced and zested
- 1 small red chilli, deseeded and chopped finely (or ½ tsp dried chilli flakes)
- Plain flour
- 2 tbsp rapeseed oil
- Bring a large pan of water to the boil. Add the potato chunks and cook for about 15-20 minutes until tender
- Meanwhile, drain the sardines and mash them in a bowl
- Mix in the chopped herbs, lemon zest and juice, and finely chopped red chilli
- When the potatoes are cooked, drain them and mash until smooth
- Stir the sardine mix into the mash potato
- Divide the mixture into eight even-sized balls (once cool enough to handle)
- With flour-dusted hands, shape the balls into fish cakes and lightly flour both sides
- Heat one tbsp of rapeseed oil in a large frying pan and cook four of the fish cakes for about 5 minutes on each side
- Repeat with the remaining four fish cakes and serve alongside salad or vegetables