***Please note that the Slow Fish Event mentioned in this post has now been rescheduled for April 18th***
Apparently spring is here, even though I had snow covering my property yesterday morning. But one way you can tell is that spring is really here is that the first runs of little fish appear on the BC coast…herring, especially, as well as oolichan. While there are plenty of small fish here like herring and sardines and anchovies, we don’t really eat very many of them. I think many people still think of anchovies as the topping you don’t want on your pizza and sardines as stinky fish that come in a can…
It’s often only our immigrant population that eats small, fresh fish like this because they are commonly eaten in their home countries…Portuguese people love sardines, Italians love anchovies…here in North America, and especially here on the West Coast, we like big fish, ones at the top of the food chain, like salmon and halibut and tuna and sablefish, and we don’t pay much attention to the little fish, which are usually more plentiful and can be harvested on a sustainable basis.
There is an important herring fishery, but the herring are fished primarily for their roe, or eggs, most of which are exported to Japan, and the fish that carried the eggs end up as fertilizer or pet food. Herring and other small fish like this are actually good for us to eat because they are high in healthy omega-3 fatty acids. There is a growing sardine fishery, driven by our immigrant populations, but you don’t see them hardly at all on restaurant menus or in fish shops. Slow Food Vancouver Island is trying to raise our awareness of small fish and other underutilized species in the second of the Slow Fish series at the London Chef Cooking School next Wednesday night. I stopped by yesterday for a preview, and the London Chef himself, Dan Hayes, is a huge fan of small fish. He finds it hard to believe that we are not more gung-ho about them.
I did find some beautiful herring a little while ago at Superstore of all places, and I actually like pickled herring, so I found a recipe and made some up and my highest praise came from some Dutch friends of mine who really like pickled herring and they said I did it right…the recipe is from British food writer Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, sometimes known as Hugh Fearlessly-Eats-It-All! Here is his recipe and the column that went with it.
Dan Hayes says one of his favourite places to find small fish is at Satellite Fish out in Sidney, where they still have a day boat that goes out and comes in with a fresh catch the same day. The boats here that go out for fish like salmon and halibut go out for days or even weeks at a time, and sadly, these little fish don’t really taste that good once they’ve been out of the ocean for more than a couple of days. So Dan says if you find them, make sure the gills on the whole fish are nice and red, the eyes bright and convex, and the flesh itself should be firm to the touch, when you poke it with your finger the flesh should bounce right back.
Dan loves to eat that little fish we usually find in a can and not on our pizzas: “Anchovy’s great…when they are nice and fresh you can just split them lengthwise and marinate them in lemon juice and olive oil for half and hour, or fry them with a little bit of gremolata or persillade on top, they are fantastic. I might get in trouble for saying this but I’d rather have a plate of crispy fried sardines in front of me any day rather than a boneless, skinless piece of salmon or halibut.”
I didn’t find any anchovies but I did find some frozen smelt so I thawed them and did them ‘fritto misto’ style as Dan mentioned, coated them in seasoned flour and deep fried them, ‘fritto’ and the ‘misto’ means mixed. So I put in some squid rings and tentacles and baby octopus and any other small fish or shrimp that I can find.
Small fish are one thing, bycatch like octopus is another. Octopus are primarily a bycatch that can come up with your crab trap. Dogfish and skate are quite often hauled up if you are longlining for halibut. UVic fisheries sustainability expert Dr. John Volpe will be on hand once again next Wednesday night to talk about the bycatch problem…since some species that get caught as bycatch can have the sustainability of their overall populations harmed that way. It’s quite a contentious issue not only here on the coast but it’s also in the news in Europe right now, where mandatory discards of bycatch result in a million metric tonnes of edible fish being dumped overboard fishboats every year. In BC there are certain measures in place to try to protect certain species from being inadvertently caught, and discussions are continuing this year. Dan Hayes says you are always going to have a bycatch problem, but if fishers end up killing bycatch, we should be eating it.
If you want to listen to Dan’s comments listen to the replay of my column here.
One more fishy thing. The first annual Cowichan Lake Salmonid Enhancement Society Benefit Dinner this Saturday night, March 24th at the Stone Soup Inn with a great line-up of chefs, all for a good cause.