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Fishy fingers

Whether it’s fresh or frozen fish you’re selling, make sure you are honest with your customers, says Calum Richardson

Something I have noticed in the 15 years that I have been frying is that many shops buy with their wallet and not their head. I can sort of see why, as every area in the country is different with regional variation dictating what a shop sells and how much the customer will spend.

But where this all falls by the wayside is when shops are not proud to say what they sell, why they sell it or when they are not entirely honest with the customer. The way people think about food is changing and we need to be at the forefront of this.

So my biggest bugbear is people misleading the customer and saying their fish is fresh when it isn’t. And when I say fresh, I mean wet, not cooked fresh. If you want to buy a frozen, cheaper product then stand proud, say you sell frozen and tell your customers the reasons why.

I know the price difference for fresh and frozen is massive but, in my opinion, so is the quality. I only buy youngs/top box, which means it’s the freshest fish on the boat as it’s caught in the last cast of the net before a boat heads back to land (many supermarkets, out of interest, buy the old stuff because it’s cheaper). A top box fish will last a week in the fridge, whereas frozen, if not used on the day it’s defrosted, will deteriorate quicker and become dry and woolly. I believe the products are like chalk and cheese.

I have noticed very few shops tell their customers that their fish is frozen. Fred Capel of Chez Fred in Bournemouth is one that does, however. He states on his website that he uses frozen fish and stands proud in saying this. OK, I still think he would be better supporting British fleets, but it means he can afford to buy three Armani leather jackets a year!

Nigel Hodgson, who owns Hodgson’s Chippy in Lancaster, is a master of frozen fish too, but I can't understand why he is cutting and skinning fish while I'm still tucked up in bed. Also, when I go home at night I like to leave without fishy fingers and a bone in my throat!

Another thing that gets to me is the myth that fresh fish cannot be had if you live in the middle of the country. This is far from the truth. My supplier, Couper Seafoods, buys fresh fish on the market five days a week and distributes all over the world, so to put fish into shops in the UK is not a logistic impossibility, quite the opposite in fact. They now supply to Enochs in Wales and Burton Road in Lincoln every week.  

Because I’m using local fresh fish my carbon foot print is dramatically reduced too. To produce my meal creates just 297g of CO2 compared to the average meal, which is over 1,000g. So, I can sleep well at night knowing I’m supporting my local economy – all be it without an Armani leather jacket and no fishy fingers.

The main thing I guess is not whether you use fresh or frozen, but to inform the customer what you actually sell, to be proud of it and to make sure it's fished sustainably. The MCS’s Fish Online app is great for telling you what is sustainable and what isn’t and it’s constantly being updated. 

Being honest with the public is paramount as this forms a bond. If they trust you, it's half the battle.

I would still urge everyone to try fresh fish and let your customers decide. After all, it’s their money. They won't be disappointed and neither will you, I promise. I am even freezing down my fish to take to Japan in October to promote what I believe is sustainable, local fresh fish – just don't tell anyone it's been frozen!

Captain Birdseye