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Where's the catch?

Where's the catch? Janet Wynne Evans welcomes some big guns to the war on thoughtless fishing

If the output of the celebrity chef community is anything to go by, 2011 will be the year in which the thousands of people who buy their books will embrace pollock, megrim and dab in order to save cod, haddock and other endangered fish stocks. Better late than never, I say. The Marine Stewardship Council’s excellent Good Fish Guide has stood on my cookery bookshelf ever since its publication in 2002, and one of my very earliest pieces on this page, Cod Philosophy, written five years ago, was inspired by it. But things have deteriorated significantly since then.

Icelandic line-caught fish aside, the parlous state of cod makes avoiding it a no-brainer. Some are already doing so unwittingly, as they munch their Vietnamese river cobbler ’n chips, but on the whole, marine conservation is complex, and prone to debate. Many argue the sustainability of, say, harpoon-caught Canadian swordfish, but Greenpeace has placed the species on its ‘red’ list. After the sushi boom that has all but eradicated bluefin tuna, current thinking deems that only pole-and-line-caught skipjack can now be justified. No it can’t, say ornithologists, who have flagged up the danger the poles pose to albatross and other sea-birds, and it certainly won’t go down well in Trápani, Sicily’s tuna capital, where it’s not just a staple but a livelihood. All we can do is read, digest and do our best, for it is our wallets that will, dare I say, turn the tide. Our more thoughtful supermarkets have already helpfully purged their wet fish counters of species under threat, so those who don’t care may no longer have any choice.

This valedictory recipe for the last bit of tuna in town is easy, tasty, can be made in instalments and is equally friendly to whites, reds and rosés. Enjoy it while you still can for, increasingly, a fish supper comes with a very big catch indeed.

Tuna “Anchoiade”

The Fish

You’ll need four tuna steaks weighing about 150g each and about half an inch thick. Marinate them overnight in the juice of a couple of small lemons and a little oil, to keep them moist. When ready, cook them on a ridged pan, heated to barely smoking or barbecue. Don’t turn them over until they come away easily from the pan by which time they will be attractively striped. I don’t subscribe to the vogue for “pink” fish and one or two parasitologists might agree with me. But first:

The Anchovy Dressing

This recipe is from Simon Hopkinson’s excellent book Week In Week Out (Quadrille, 2007). It makes far more than you’ll need but it keeps well in the fridge and makes a killer dressing for a Caesar salad. In a food processor, blend 1 tbsp each smooth Dijon mustard and white wine vinegar, a half-clove of garlic, well crushed, 4 tbsp warm water, ground black pepper to taste and four anchovy fillets. With the motor still running, add 150ml extra-virgin olive oil and 150ml peanut oil in a thin stream until the mixture is homogenous and creamy.

The Lentil Salad

Rinse 200g Puy lentils under the tap and remove any foreign bodies. Brown a chopped red onion and 100g smoked lardons in some oil (if you don’t eat meat, replace with chopped celery and carrot for extra flavour), add 2 crushed cloves of garlic and tip in the lentils, stirring to coat. Tuck in a bay leaf and a bouquet garni of thyme, sage and parsley. Pour in 500ml wine (any colour) and bring to a simmer. Cook until the lentils are done, but with a little bite, adding a little water if needed. Drain and, while still warm, season with salt and pepper and coat generously with some of the anchovy dressing – 3-4 tbsp should give the right glossy allure. Leave to cool and absorb the flavours of the dressing.

The Sum of the Parts

Pile the dressed lentils on four plates and top with the griddled tuna. Garnish with rocket or cress. Pour a consoling glass of Sicilian or Campanian white, or a chunky Languedoc or Rhône marsanne-roussanne. Alternatively, try a dry Provence rosé or a fruity red of any description.

Say au revoir. Let us hope it is not adieu. It’s in our hands.


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