What a catch

Kidderminster Shuttle: What a catch What a catch

Smelly, expensive, bony... fish doesn't always have the best reputation, but it's packed full of nutrients and there's a whole ocean of flavours to explore. Time to splash out, says Lauren Taylor.

Whether it was a whiffy, overcooked piece of haddock as a child that's put you off, or a plate plagued with bones, many people simply won't touch fish, no matter how many delicious-looking seafood dishes grace our TV screens on MasterChef.

As an island nation, though, we have a fabulous array of flavours swimming locally on our doorstep. It's high in protein, low in fat and needn't be too expensive or tricky to cook. And with so many different varieties, it's impossible to get bored.

So it's a wonder why, compared to our Mediterranean friends, we're a bit unenthusiastic about fish in Britain. I have several friends who won't touch it unless it's covered in breadcrumbs, chopped into familiar rectangle shapes and deep-fried within an inch of its life.

A recent survey by Fish of the Day, the consumer face of the industry body Seafish, found most people in the UK (56% of adults) are falling short of the recommended two portions of fish per week.

Despite that, lots of people say looking after their health is a priority, with 39% planning on kicking off a better eating regime in the New Year.

If eating for health is your goal, looking to the seas for inspiration is a great place to start.

Known as 'brain food', oily fish like sardines, mackerel and salmon are packed full of Omega 3, and all types of fish and seafood are nutrient rich.

As well as Omega 3, vitamin D is another of fish's key components and, with winter in full force, we can't rely on sunlight to keep levels topped up so it's essential that our diets contain it too.

Vitamin D is crucial for healthy bones, muscles and the immune system, while it's also been linked with helping prevent diseases like heart disease, bowel and breast cancer and type 2 diabetes.

Experts advise that we eat two 140g portions of fish a week, one of which should be oily. According to Fish is the Dish nutritionist Juliette Kellow, making this a reality needn't be too hard.

"Find the fishmonger counter at your local supermarket, they're the best people to give advice on all the different types of fish, and how to cook it," she says. "If you've never really cooked fish before, start with something familiar like cod, haddock or plaice, making sure it's responsibly sourced."

Most fish comes in handy, single portions or can be filleted by a fishmonger, so it won't take much, if any, preparation, and it can be cooked in mere minutes.

"Get experimenting, have a play, and build your confidence," Kellow says. "If the kids are a bit resistant, start with homemade fish fingers or fishcakes. I used to make my little one a bit of mackerel mashed into some white fish, so he's growing up used to the taste of fish. Now he'll try anything."

Fish has a reputation for being a bit pricey, which can be a worry for families on a budget.

"Ask your fishmonger what's in season because it will be cheaper," Kellow explains. "It's the same as a lot of foods, if you buy strawberries now they'll be far more expensive than in June.

"If people didn't grow up eating fish at home, it can seem intimidating with so many varieties. And now there's a new generation of mums not cooking fish for their kids. We need to encourage more parents to cook with it."

According to studies, vitamin D levels tend to be lowest from January to March, so now's the time to make fish the dish of the day.

Why not kick of the New Year with a good old piece of fresh fish from the British Isles and a spot of home cooking? Here are three fin-tastic recipes to get you started...

Seabass with Bombay potatoes and fried egg

(Serves 2)

2 seabass fillets

2 large potatoes peeled and diced into 1cm chunks

1 clove garlic crushed

½ chilli, sliced

1tbsp curry powder

½tsp mustard seeds

1tsp grated ginger (optional)

3 spring onions, sliced

2 eggs

Boil the potatoes in salted water until just tender but retaining a slight bite, then drain.

Slash the skin of the seabass three of four times, then brush the fillets with oil and season. Cook under a preheated grill, skin side up, until the skin is crispy and then turn over and cook the flesh side for one minute.

Heat a little oil in a non-stick pan, add the mustard seeds and allow to pop. Next add the ginger, garlic, chilli and curry powder, cook for one minute, then add the potatoes. Continue to cook, turning gently until they are brown and crispy. Remove from heat.

Fry the eggs.

Spoon some potatoes onto a plate and top with a seabass fillet, then a fried egg.

Pollock with a crusty topping

(Serves 2)

2 x 200g pollock fillets

70g breadcrumbs

2tbsp pesto

20g parmesan cheese

2 sun-dried tomatoes, chopped

50ml olive oil

Mix the breadcrumbs with the grated parmesan cheese and then rub through some of the olive oil to moisten the breadcrumb mix.

Grease a tray, lay the pollock fillets on it side by side and lightly brush them with oil.

Spread the pesto on top of the fillets, then scatter the sun-dried tomatoes on top of the pesto. Now top each fillet with the breadcrumb mix.

Place under a preheated grill and cook until the breadcrumbs just start to colour, then place in an oven at 180C for five minutes, or until the fish is just cooked.

Crab risotto with smoked fish

(Serves 4)

125g crab meat

2 fillets smoked trout, or other smoked fish

3 cups of stock - you can use fish, chicken or vegetable

170g arborio rice

½ onion, diced

50g frozen peas

2 spring onions, sliced

1tbsp olive oil

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

Knob of butter (optional)

Spoonful of creme fraiche or yogurt (optional)

Grated parmesan (optional)

Heat the stock in a pan.

Dice the onion into small pieces and add to another pot with the oil and stir. Then add the rice and stir everything together, and cook gently for a further two minutes.

Next add the heated stock, a cupful at a time, stirring constantly - wait until the stock is absorbed before adding more.

Once all the stock has been added and absorbed, add the crab meat, peas and spring onions, along with the lemon juice and zest, and continue to cook for one to two minutes.

Optional: At this point the risotto can be enriched by adding butter and a spoonful of creme fraiche or yogurt, along with grated parmesan.

:: Recipes courtesy of Fish is the Dish. For more information, health tips and recipes, visit www.fishisthedish.co.uk

Three of the best

Porridge sachets

:: Sainsbury's Express Porridge Variety Pack, £1.59 for 10 sachets, Sainsbury's

The plain oats in this pack are lovely and chunky, quick to cook and not as sickly sweet as others on the market. The packets feature handy milk-level guides, so they're very easy to prepare.

:: Special K Multi-Grain Porridge, £1.99 for 7 sachets, various supermarkets

With barley and rye as well as oats, these sachets offer a high-fibre boost in the morning.

:: Tesco Micro Oats Original, £1.59 for 10 sachets, Tesco

Great for those who prefer their porridge to have a finer texture and a sweeter taste.

:: Recipes courtesy of Fish is the Dish. For more information, health tips and recipes, visit www.fishisthedish.co.uk

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