We are a small company with 10 employees in Wormley, England. Wormley is forty miles from the sea and a hundred miles from the nearest fishing port, but Alistair (company founder) lived when he decided to start The Fish Society nearly 25 years ago. And it’s where fish arrives every morning, despatched by our 150 suppliers the day before via the UK’s very efficient fish delivery network. Fish landed and auctioned on Day 1 in Cornwall, The Hebrides, Aberdeen and Norfolk, and indeed in the big French port of Boulogne is processed and frozen by us on Day 2.
Why we’re different
First of all, we’re 100% committed to frozen. All fishmongers rely on frozen fish for at least some of their range – otherwise, they’d have no prawns. And when fresh fish is scarce they might offer frozen as a fallback. But we believe that unless you’re buying fresh fish at the port to eat today or tomorrow, frozen is ultimately superior – as long as the fish being frozen is of the highest quality. Distance delivery of fish is an expensive business. You need fast delivery and sophisticated packaging.
It’s much better to buy fish frozen super-fast in a commercial plant, then expertly labelled and packed, and delivered to you still frozen – than to buy fresh fish and freeze it slowly in your home freezer.
These days every fishmonger must have a policy on sustainability. This is not a simple subject.
A hundred years of overfishing – intensified over the last 40 years by technology and globalisation – has reduced the stocks of many species of fish to critically low levels.
Today, most of the fish mankind eats is farmed. This takes some of the pressure off wild stocks, yet fish farming sometimes seems no less of a threat than overfishing: Scottish lochs full of farming waste, mangroves cleared for prawn farming, farmed species of every kind escaping to mix genes with wild stocks. The good news, as fish farming has become the dominant source of seafood they farmers are getting cleaner and smarter.
Fish is a complex global industry. Our fish might pass through six or more companies before it reaches us. We might routinely buy the same item from three suppliers each with its own supply chain. We are a small business and with a very wide range. It is frankly impossible for us to put our hands up and say we know we are 100% sustainable. We don’t believe any company retailing a wide range of fish could justify such a claim.
It is not very comfortable to be honest with you about the challenges presented by sustainability.
And yet, there are some positives. Overfishing began to be addressed 60 years ago when Iceland declared a 200-mile limit, expelled our trawlers and restricted its own. Fishing control got a big boost when Canada spectacularly wiped out its Newfoundland cod fishery in 1992. Norway, the EU, Canada and the USA read the runes. In the nick of time, and by a two steps forward one step backward process, politicians and fishermen do seem to be getting to grips with overfishing. Even China – since 2000, the fastest expanding big plunderer of fish stocks – has now officially acknowledged that the game is up.
Only the poorest third world countries have failed to grasp the blinding truth that continued overfishing can only spell disaster. There is a long way to go, but the direction is forwards.
Much could be said for the first man or woman who pulled an octopus out of the sea, gazed upon its large head and long arms and thought, “I wonder if this would taste better boiled or fried?”
Although ‘common’ octopus (as this species is known) is found virtually worldwide, the very best eating octopus comes from Portugal or neighbouring Spain. We only stock octopus sourced from Mediterranean countries. They come conveniently block frozen in trays.
Octopus vary greatly in colour, this is due to the chromatophores, pigment-containing light-reflecting cells that are present in their skin. These cells can be controlled by their muscle movement, and provide an octopus with a means of camouflage. Octopus are mainly grey/maroon and turn pink and red during cooking.
The prized part of an octopus is, of course, its arms; or tentacles as most people know them. Growing up to 2 feet in length, they are valued for their meat as well as their looks. The underside of each tentacle is covered in suckers which are used by the octopus for gripping and handling.
All of the flesh of an octopus is edible, with only its ink sack and innards being discarded in normal cooking. However, don’t be too hasty to throw the ink away. Octopus ink is highly regarded by experimental chefs who use the ink to dye rice, or cook the octopus in its ink for a change of flavour and appearance.
When cooking octopus pay close attention to your timings, over or under cooking can result in a rubbery texture which will spoil the experience.
If you’re the kind of person who likes to have a good look at the fresh fish counter in your local supermarket, one would assume that you had a reasonable knowledge of fish that are available in the UK. But how often have you seen a fresh turbot resting on the ice? Or was it a brill?
Despite turbot being caught all over the UK, it is the lesser known cousin of the plaice and lemon sole. Turbot are almost completely circular in shape, with colours ranging from the muddiest brown to an almost grassy green. They have no scales, but are instead covered in many lumps and bumps, feeling rough like a stone. The turbots cousin, the brill, shares many of these traits but can be told apart by its longer body.
A wild turbot can grow to an impressive size, with championship catches weighing over 10 kilos. The largest turbot we have filleted here in the last year was 13kg. Below is a video we took of a 9.5kg turbot, this should help you gauge the size of the fish.
Sometimes, we sell whole turbot on our website, ranging between 1 and 3 kilos. These fish would happily feed a family of 4.
Turbot has good flavour on its own, and requires a short cooking time. Resist the temptation to over season and tart it up with other flavourings that will mask it’s beautiful, natural flavour.
If you’ve ever bought fish from The Fish Society there’s a good chance it has gone past the watchful eyes of Lorna. Lorna is one of our longest standing members of staff, being with us for a dedicated 5 years. A well-versed fish worker now, Lorna almost ended up a baker working next door! Alistair saw her potential and made sure she stuck here with us, picking, packing, and preparing wild Halibut, Kingklip, Salmon and more.
An avid cycler, Lorna always finds time to work out between shifts. You would think we kept her fit enough lifting boxes of scampi and lemon sole in the deep freeze, but she enjoys the challenge of the gym. Did we hear talk of attending this years Tough Mudder?
Thanks again Lorna from everyone here at The Fish Society.