Fish

How to get your fish dishes right

By Michelle Perrett contact

- Last updated on GMT

How big is fish on your menu?
How big is fish on your menu?

Related tags: Fish, Seafood

The British public may be more than a little conservative when preparing their own food, but it’s a different matter entirely when it comes to eating out. As Michelle Perrett discovers, consumers of food in pubs are increasingly adventurous, with fish and other seafood high on their list of must-try dishes

Fish and chips is a British institution and one of the most popular meals to be served in pubs. According to MCA’s latest Menu & Food Trends report, 11% of all mains eaten in pubs in 2015 were fish dishes. This is a higher share than in the total eating-out market, where fish dishes accounted for 7.4% of all mains, down from 7.7% in 2014.

Fish dishes are also the second most popular main at pubs, behind the roast (which is just over 11%). Fish dishes even beat beef burgers, which make up 8.1% of all mains.

Fish and chips wears the crown as the most popular fish dish in pubs. According to the MCA Eating Out Panel, 44% of all fish dishes were fish and chips, followed by scampi (11%), salmon (9%), grilled fish (8%) and seabass (5%).

Fish buying tips:

1)​ Know your supplier – check for an MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) or ASC (Aquaculture Stewardship Council) label.
2) ​Know your haddock from your hake. The more aware you are, the more familiar you’ll be with the texture, flavour, size etc … 
3)​ Avoid globally sourced fish.  If MSC fish is unavailable, try local fish markets or buy as locally as possible.
4)​ Make battered fish in-house where possible, so you know exactly what is underneath the batter.
5)​ Use an independent supplier audit if you’re concerned about where your fish come from.
6) ​If you’re buying cod and haddock at rock bottom prices, challenge your supplier on its authenticity. 

Source: ​Acoura

And the classic combination continues to grow in popularity, as research company NPD Group reveals. Since 2010, there has been an 8.5% growth in servings and a strong 3.6% year-on-year increase from March 2015 to March 2016.

NPD believes this increase shows demand has grown organically, rather than being down to a rise in total visits. It’s a category that is well placed to benefit from consumer trends around freshness, transparency and provenance, it adds.

Seafood authority Seafish claims that fried fish has increased its dominance of the out-of-home sector by recording a rise of 1.1% to hold a 37.3% share of seafood servings, while seafood sandwiches now hold a 29.5% share.

Cod has also grown its lead in the out-of-home market and now accounts for 29.8% of all fish servings and a 14.2% share of all seafood servings (NPD Crest 52 weeks ending June 2015).

So, with fish growing in popularity, what should pub chefs be serving and what is best practice?

The standard fish and chips, fish pie and prawn curry still have their place, but there is much more potential than that for the use of fish on pub menus.

Andy Gray, trade marketing manager at Seafish, argues that consumers are developing “ever more sophisticated tastes” and it is essential for chefs to keep up with the pace of that trend. Consumers tend to focus on five main species of seafood — salmon, tuna, cod,

haddock and prawns — but with more than 100 different species of fish and shellfish in the UK, there is a “veritable bounty” to be tapped into, he says.

Gray advises pub chefs to encourage consumers to try different species of fish. This can reduce the pressure on more traditional species as well as opening up more interesting dishes for both the chef and consumer.

“This diversity of species and increasingly adventurous tastes among consumers, provides a great opportunity for caterers to utilise some lesser-known seafood species such as john dory, gurnard, brill, megrim, squid, coley and pollock,” he says.

Offering different species of fish is one of the approaches taken by North Shields gastropub the Staith House, run by Masterchef: The Professionals finalist John Calton. The quayside pub — situated on the quay, next to a working fishery in Low Lights — is famous for its fish dishes.

Calton also won the coveted Publican’s Morning Advertiser (PMA) Gastropub Chef of the Year Award 2016 and the pub is 31 in the list of the Estrella Damm Top 50 Gastropubs in the UK, which is run in conjunction with the PMA. It is also Star Pubs & Bars pub of the year 2015 and won the PMA’s Great British Pub Awards Best Food Pub last year.

Daily changing menu

The pub serves a daily changing menu offering of seven mains, with four of them being fish dishes.

“I write my menu around what’s in season. At the moment, it is species like gurnard, hake, lemon sole, monkfish, mussels, plaice and scallops,” Calton says.

“We always have an alternative species that people haven’t heard of, such as gurnard. This is something that the staff have to try to sell as people are a bit wary.”

Fish and cocktail pairing:

Fish and drink matching can add to the consumer experience.

Rob Poulter, on-trade consultant at Diageo, says licensees should not be share to pair the popular summer dishes with cocktails.

“The Paloma is the perfect complement as the light peppery notes in the Tequila cut through the batter while the citrus notes in the grapefruit soda act to cleanse the palate in between each mouthful.

“Alternatively, the English Elderflower Fizz cocktail works as a great accompaniment to a simple white fish dish.”

Paloma

Ingredients
50ml Don Julio Blanco Tequila
150ml grapefruit soda
Sea salt
Pink grapefruit wedges

Method
Pre-prepare a glass by rubbing the rim with one of the wedges of grapefruit and dipping it in a dish of sea salt to coat the rim
Fill the glass with ice
Add the tequila
Top with the grapefruit soda
Garnish with another wedge of pink grapefruit
1.9 UK units

The pub encourages customers to try new species of fish by cooking small portions so they can try before they buy.

“Getting staff to get them to try a piece goes a long way to selling the dish,” he adds.

He also offers a premium fish on the menu such as a turbot, that is priced at around £25. Other dishes involve more recognisable species such as plaice and lemon sole.

“They sell pretty evenly, but on a Friday and Saturday night, turbot seems to outsell everything. People want a treat and spend a bit of cash on a quality fish,” Calton says.

To keep the menu interesting, each dish is cooked using different techniques. There will be a grilled fish, a fish such as seabass served with salad, a steamed fish dish, a pan-fried fish and also one served with the fresh vegetables of the season, such as Jersey Royals and asparagus.

Calton adds that fish can provide a good margin, but a varied menu can help to ensure GPs are kept at a high level overall.

“On the turbot, we take a hit. If we charged the full price we would never sell any, so we go for something like a 60% GP margin. There is still a higher profit margin to be made and you can hit 70% on whiting, gurnard and squid, ” he says.

He advises other chefs to work with available seasonality charts to ensure they are offering the best value and quality of product.

“I work closely with suppliers and get a call from the fish market every morning at 7am telling me what is in season, what has been landed and what is the best price.”

While fish and chips remains popular, he says pubs can be more innovative with their fish dishes.

“There are different dressings, different sauces, different butters, salads and fish soup. It is not just about fish and chips,” he argues.

Seafood Pub Company

Lancashire-based seven-strong Seafood Pub Company is famous for its fish offer and is creative with its dishes.

“We try to rework classic dishes. If you look at beef bourguignon, we sell a monkfish version with red wine, chestnut mushrooms and bacon,” says Antony Shirley, executive chef. “There is a lot of skate around so we have been doing Skate Parmigiana with gnocci and wild garlic butter.”

The pub company, winner of the Best Food Offer at the PMA’s Publican Awards for two years in a row, offers a wide-ranging menu, with around 35 dishes, including pub classics. But it is so well known for its fish and other seafood dishes that, at some sites, a staggering 80% of menu choices are taken up by these options. Popular dishes include a Goan King Prawn Curry and Satay Prawn Skewers.

CLAMS AMANDE

Shirley says: “We try to use as much fish as possible from the north-west coastline for consistency, including deep-sea haddock and deep-sea cod for dishes such as fish and chips. They come in at quite a steady price throughout the year.”

He admits, however, that “all good fish” is expensive and it is not the “cheapest medium” to work with.

“Morecambe Bay plaice will come in next month and that will be something ridiculous like £2 or £2.20 a fish. Mother nature writes the menu, as there will be Jersey Royals, sprouting broccoli and all that is best in season,” Shirley maintains.

“The beauty is we buy the whole fish. You can turn trimmings into fish cakes or salt and pepper squid.”

The relationship between the pub chef and supplier is vital. He advises licensees to work closely with a supplier or spend time sourcing the right product.

Being close with the supplier can ensure the best product and price. Jason Calcutt, business development chef from supplier M&J Seafood, advises pub chefs to look to seasonal options.

“By doing this, and highlighting the provenance of the product, you can make use of local fish and that’s likely to be most cost effective,” he says.

Booker, which boasts fish counters at its sites, advises licensees to keep their fish offer fairly simple. “Bass and bream are versatile fish. You can get great-quality frozen fillets, which can be defrosted overnight, therefore minimising your waste,” Booker says.

Meanwhile, pub chefs must ensure that their suppliers are reputable. Stuart Kelly, managing director at food chain supply and safety experts Acoura Consulting, warns pubs to be wary of what they are buying.

Kelly explains: “Many menus claim that their fish is sustainably sourced. If you’re one of these, you need to be sure you can back that up because consumers are asking operators to substantiate claims.”

He also advises pub operators to review dishes to meet the growing demands from consumers as well as avoid overfishing of certain species.

“Pollock and plaice are great value and a good alternative to cod and haddock. Tilapia, which is very popular internationally, is also a good option for pubs. It’s a farmed fish, so is in plentiful supply and is inexpensive,” he says.

Whatever you want to serve in your pub — traditional fish and chips or more adventurous alternatives — consumers want more. Pubs should be looking at their fish dishes and being more creative, while considering sustainability as well as costs.

What's in season?

January
Bream (freshwater), Bream (sea), Carp, Clams, Clams palourdes, Cockles, Crayfish, Cuttlefish, Langoustines, Lobster, Mussels, Oysters (native), Oysters (Pacific), Sardines, Sprats, Squid, Turbot, Whitebait, Whiting

February
Bream (sea), Clams, Clams palourdes, Cockles, Coley, Crayfish, Cuttlefish, Haddock, Langoustines, Lobster, Mussles, Oysters (native), Oysters (Pacific), Pike, Salmon (wild), Sardines, Scallops, Sprats, Squid, Turbot, Whitebait, Whiting

March
Bream (sea), Clams, Clams palourdes, Cockles, Coley, Crayfish, Cuttlefish, Haddock, Langoustines, Lobster, Mussels, Oysters (native), Oysters (Pacific), Pike, Salmon (wild), Sardines, Scallops, Sprats, Squid, Turbot, Whitebait, Whiting

April
Bream (sea), Clams, Clams palourdes, Cockles, Coley, Crayfish, Cuttlefish, Haddock, Langoustines, Lobster, Mussles, Oysters (native), Oysters (Pacific), Pike, Salmon (wild), Sardines, Scallops, Sprats, Squid, Turbot, Whitebait, Whiting

May
Bream (sea), Clams, Clams palourdes, Cockles, Coley, Crayfish, Cuttlefish, Haddock, Langoustines, Lobster, mussels, Oysters (native), Oysters (Pacific), Pike, Salmon (wild), Sardines, Scallops, Sprats, Squid, Turbot, Whitebait, Whiting

June
Bream (sea), Brill, Catfish (sea), Crabs, Crawfish, Crayfish, Dover Sole, Conger (Eel), Flounder, Grey Mullet, Hake, Langoustines, Lemon Sole, Lobster, Mackerel, Megrim, Monkfish, Mussels, Oysters (Pacific), Plaice, Red Mullet, Salmon (wild), Squid, Turbot, Whelks, Winkles

July
Bream (freshwater), Bream (sea), Brill, Carp, Catfish (sea), Crabs, Crawfish, Crayfish, Conger (Eel), Flounder, Grey Mullet, Hake, Herring, Langoustines, Lemon Sole, Lobster, Mackerel, Meagre, Megrim, Monkfish, Mussels, Oysters (Pacific), Plaice, Red Mullet, Salmon (wild), Sea Trout, Squid

August
Bream (freshwater), Bream (sea), Brill, Carp, Catfish (sea), Crabs, Crawfish, Crayfish, Conger (Eel), Flounder, Grey Mullet, Hake, Herring, Langoustines, Lemon Sole, Lobster, Mackerel, Meagre, Megrim, Monkfish, Mussels, Oysters (Pacific), Plaice, Red Mullet, Salmon (wild), Sea Trout, Squid

September
Bream (freshwater), Bream (sea), Carp, Clams, Clams palourdes, Cod, Coley, Crayfish, Dover Sole, Haddock, Langoustines, Lobster, Mussels, Oysters (native), Oysters (Pacific), Red Mullet, Sardines, Scallops, Skate, Turbot, Whiting

October
Bream (freshwater), Bream (Sea), Carp, Clams, Clams palourdes, Cockles, Cod, Coley, Crayfish, Dover Sole, Haddock, Langoustines, Lobster, Mussels, Oysters (native), Oysters (Pacific), Sardines, Skate, Squid, Turbot, Whitebait

November
Bream (freshwater), Bream (Sea), Carp, Clams, Clams palourdes, Cockles, Cod, Coley, Crayfish, Dover Sole, Haddock, Langoustines, Lobster, Mussels, Oysters (native), Oysters (Pacific), Sardines, Skate, Squid, Turbot, Whitebait

December
Bream (freshwater), Bream (sea), Carp, Clams, Clams palourdes, Cockles, Crayfish, Cuttlefish, Langoustines, Lobster, Mussels, Oysters (native), Oysters (Pacific), Sardines, Sprats, Squid, Turbot, Whitebait, Whiting

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