Finding out whether the fish in restaurants is "sustainable" is harder than you'd think. Plus, it's a good time to start foraging—I found wild garlic, and cooked up a stormby Alex Renton / May 24, 2008 / Leave a comment
Is your fish sustainable?
I’ve been asking every restaurant that I’ve visited recently where they get their fish. It’s a bore for whoever I’m eating with, but the results are interesting. Even at the restaurants that boast their devotion to “sustainable” sourcing, the waiters usually have little idea what the provenance of the fish is. At one Edinburgh restaurant I was told, with some pride, that the scallops were from the west coast and definitely not diver-caught—though this is in fact the only environmentally friendly option.
Monkfish is a particular problem. Chefs love this gloriously ugly bottom-feeder for the texture of the flesh of its long tail. Indeed, it’s said that in the days when monkfish were dredged up by the scallop-boats as by-catch, the skippers would sell it on to the fish processors who would chop up the tails and pass the bits off as scampi. But now monkfish is endangered in the North sea and Scotland. If you care, it should not be eaten without positive assurance that it was line-caught, not trawled. Yet at two very right-on restaurants I visited recently, a Conran outlet and one of the Loch Fyne chain, the waiters had no idea where the monkfish had come from.
The problem, of course, is that the word “sustainable,” while increasingly exciting for concerned consumers, has no official definition. Nor is it likely to get one—although organisations like the Marine Stewardship Council are trying through their certification scheme to raise awareness of the principle. But at the moment it languishes in the tawdry vocabulary of food retail marketing along with other much-abused words like “farmhouse,” “fresh” and “natural.”
Even when terms have recognised and policed definitions—as “organic” does—they are still routinely (and sometimes fraudulently) misused. This is partly because of the tragic ignorance of customers. At a food industry trade fair recently, I met a young man flogging a pre-warmed pie concept. One of the pies was labelled “Genuine free-range lamb with rosemary!” “So that won’t be the lamb that lives in cages then?” I asked. “No one’s ever complained,” he said.
Foraging for wild garlic
Some people look out for colt’s foot or blackthorn blossom as the early signs of spring. When the snowdrops fade, I start peering into still-leafless woodland for a much more useful plant: wild garlic. This year I found my first crop early, for Scotland: in the…