Ideas from Chile to promote fish eatingReading Time: 4 minutes
200 responsible fishing alternatives from Chile and how to exploit them
Photo: gently pan-fried hake served with new potatoes, samphire and lemon (hake is one of my favourite fish as a Spaniard, and the delicious side dish is from A Table for Friends by Skye McAlpine, my latest cookbook acquisition, which I should write about when I've used it a bit more. Keep your eyes peeled.)
As part of the #encuentrodelosmares event 2020 organised by Madrid Fusión 13-15th July, I learnt about Tres Peces, a pioneering fish restaurant from Valparaíso that took the lead in promoting responsible fishing and fish eating. In doing so, they gained 55.000 clients in their first year (2018-19). How did they do it?
The restaurant partnership, two cooks and a journalist specialised in fish and aquaculture, met in a social innovation chat in Santiago, says newspaper El Martutino. In their passionate talk for #encuentrodelosmares, they talked about Tres Peces and their initiatives.
The most shocking data is that Chile, a country with 4.300 kms of coastline and 92.000 fishermen, are leaders in fish exports but do not actually appreciate fish enough themselves. This might not be that surprising if you know that fish consumption has also been decreasing in Spain, one of the biggest fish-eating countries in the world together with Japan. Still, six in 10 Spaniards eat fish two or three times a week, which is surely a lot more than most British people and, probably more than Chileans.
Yet, fish consumption is slowly increasing in the UK, and personal wellbeing is the primary driver in that fashion. On the other hand, what prevents the British from fish intake are prices and concerns about sustainability and over-fishing. Other reasons argued are: lack of recipe knowledge, lack of availability of fresh fish in local shops (I can vouch for that one, in comparison with Spain), lack of time to prepare it from scratch, not liking the smell, and difficulties planning ahead for meals (The Fish Site, 2012, but the increase seems to continue). For more stats on British fish consumption, see UKfisheries.net.
Well then, if restaurants in the UK, together with local councils and schools joined in to promote knowledge about fish, fishing, and cooking with fish, wouldn’t it be great? The top export markets for British fish by value are France, Spain, the USA and the Irish Republic: what if the British learnt to value it themselves? Now, I know that the privileged who have better knowledge of fish and a bigger purse can find some good quality fish in supermarkets like Waitrose or the online Abel and Cole. Regrettably, competitors like Riverford hardly sell any fish, and the variety offered bears, of course, no comparison to Spain. If people were more educated about it and had a closer link to it, perhaps they’d buy more. So, let’s get onto what Tres Peces do so well.
- They promote a direct relationship between restaurants and fishermen.
- They promote responsible fishing, respecting closed seasons, etc., and aiming for 100% legal and responsible fishing products.
- They promote ‘fish with name and surname’, that is, provenance. And I know Abel and Cole, for example, does this, and many British restaurants already do. But, what if they all did it?
- They found that Chile has 124 types of fish, 40 of molluscs, 25 of crustaceans and 18 of seaweed varieties in stark contrast with the three or four staples in restaurants. So, they innovate and promote less-known fish not only in their restaurant but also in events, for example, reineta (Brama Australis) aka promfret.
- They’ve learnt to exploit even species who were a nuisance in some areas and ate other fish, like the giant squid who ravaged hake in the 5th
- @reineta flaca, for example, uses social media extensively to promote fish consumption and provide fish news, for example, warning when a boat full of reinetas has arrived in port.
- They have a fair price, that is, fair to the fishermen and to the customer, so no fish dish costs over €10.
- They have a single price, that is, all fish dishes cost the same, because all fish are born equal and, arguably, it costs the same to catch one or the other.
- They serve traditional local fish preparations such as ‘caldo de congrio’ (conger soup) or ‘merluza austral a la lata’ (looked like baked hake in the video). Here is a recipe in Spanish for caldillo de congrio; I could not find one for the hake.
- Most importantly, in my opinion, they encourage fishermen to come and eat at the restaurant and talk to customers about the fish. Also tour guides, cooks and other institutions with the idea of sharing knowledge and food. Now, I know that my award-winning local butchers organise masterclasses, but these are a little expensive and only affordable to a few. How about local pubs and restaurants organising something simpler, just a visit from a local fisherperson or producer and sharing a recipe? I’d certainly be up for it, wouldn’t you?
- They also work, together with Fundación Cocinamar, with small producers of different fish to study their organoleptic properties and how to exploit them (how to cook them, what products to make with them and who to sell them to). For example, in the very centre of the Atacama Desert, they farm ‘vidriola’ ( S. lalandi, palometa chilena or yellowtail amberjack) which they then export to Italy and promote in gastro fairs.
Here you can see an example of one of Tres Peces Covid-19 delivery menus.
My advice as a consumer:
- Fish is much quicker to cook than most meat dishes, which means savings on cooking time and energy consumption, be it fried or oven-baked.
- If you buy it whole and uncleaned, prep will take longer, but you will be rewarded with a much better taste. If not, your fishmonger will be delighted to clean it for you.
- Choose simple dishes: good fish needs very little to be delicious e.g. an organic trout fillet pan-fried in butter and topped with flaky toasted almonds. Yum.
- Fish does not have to be expensive. If you look at this list from an upmarket supermarket, you'll see that, in spite of that, some are pretty affordable. Smoked mackerel, like trout, makes a healthy, tasty and affordable quick supper, great with something sweet like sweet potato or celeriac mash. So, mix it up and tailor it to your budget. Some of the cheaper ones are also very good for you, like sardines or mackerel, as they're high in good fats.
- Finally, I don't know about you, but I'd rather have a mouthful exploding with taste than a lifeless stodgy plateful of fish cake mush. When food is tasty, you need less to feel satisfied.
So, there’s some ideas for you! Hope you enjoyed it and, if you live in a touristy area and need help with promotional materials in Spanish, do not hesitate to contact me. I’d be delighted to help. Other than that, feel free to share it to people who might find it useful and, why not, tag me so I know you enjoyed it (links at the bottom).