The savvy shopper: fish

Categories: Expert guidance

Regular columnist Ed Smith explores some cheap ways of adding fresh fish to your diet

There are two types of shoppers: people who buy fish, and people who don’t. If you’re a buyer, then brilliant. Keep going, but do challenge yourself to try something new occasionally. If you’re a non-buyer, then we should have a chat.

Now, maybe you just don’t like fish. That’s fine. I know exactly where you’re coming from. Anyone who claims to not understand the reaction of “eugh, no thanks, it’s too, you know, fishy” is a liar or a bigot. I’m not here to convert you; getting a taste for something needs to come from within. Perhaps you just don’t know what to do with it. I totally get that too. 

Which is why market shopping for fish is always the best way, because the fishmongers will tell you how to cook it and do all the prep for you. After that: fry, grill, poach, bake. Just don’t worry about it.

It’s possible, though, that the biggest barrier is the feeling that fish is expensive. That’s understandable. I know I always think twice and some fish are a pay day purchase. I don’t think anyone should ever dismiss those concerns. I would say, though, that there’s a difference between expensive and bad value.

Hard won
Fresh fish is never bad value. It’s a hard won natural resource, with many links in the chain. Moreover, a little fish goes a long way. You’ll notice how those thin little fillets of, say, trout or sea bream puff up as they cook. It’s nutritious and can be rich and filling. But this is savvy shopper. So I need to give you more than that.

First of all, seasonal fish will always be economical. It’s easier to catch and there’s more of it. But it still needs to find a customer, so it needs to be good value. How do you know what represents good value? As with the ‘how do I cook it?’ question above, you just have to ask.

A recent walk round the Market suggested that gurnard, octopus and hake were a bargain. But things may have changed when you read this—so ask. Fishmongers don’t bite (hard). Some fish are just generally cheaper. In the UK, sardines and mackerel are always a good place to start.

Secondly, how about using the scraps? I saw a number of the fishmongers offering cod and gurnard heads for very little money. There’s meat in cheeks and collars, and more than a bit of flavour. They must have bones going spare, too. It’s worth asking whether you can take some off their hands. Certainly, if you’ve bought any fish you should use it all and make a stock with the fish’s frame.

Awesome fish soup
I bought a couple of gurnard heads, a whole gurnard and a squid (also generally inexpensive) and made an awesome fish soup from the bones and a few tomatoes. I also made a rouille (garlicky roast pepper mayonnaise) to top a few slices of old, toasted bread.

It was summery, full of flavour, and I sat smugly with plenty of coins left in my pocket, imagining myself eating the same in a harbourside restaurant in the south of France or Cornwall. Hearty yet light, fish soup is a cheap meal that’ll bring a smile to your face whatever the weather.