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. You can find a review I wrote clicking on the title.)
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, Chile, 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. In their passionate talk, they discussed Tres Peces and their initiatives.
The surprising data is that Chile, a country with 4.300 km of coastline and 92.000 fishermen, are leaders in fish exports but do not actually eat much fish themselves. This might be less surprising if you knew 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 more than most British people and, probably more than Chileans.
But fish consumption is slowly increasing in the UK, personal wellbeing being the primary driver. What prevents the British from eating fish are prices and concerns about sustainability and over-fishing. Other reasons are: lack of recipe knowledge, lack of availability of fresh fish in local shops, lack of time to prepare it from scratch, not liking the smell, and difficulties planning meals ahead (The Fish Site, 2012, but the increase seems to continue). More stats on British fish consumption on UKfisheries.net.
If restaurants in the UK joined up forces with local councils and schools to promote knowledge about fish, fishing and cooking with fish instead of exporting it, 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 those with a bigger purse can find some good quality fish in supermarkets like Waitrose or Abel and Cole. Regrettably, competitors like Riverford mainly sell meat. If people were more knowledgeable about fish and had a closer connection to it, they’d probably 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, respect closed seasons, etc., and aim for 100% legal and responsible fishing products.
- They promote ‘fish with name and surname’, or provenance. And I know that organic food providers and many British restaurants already do this. 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. Therefore, they promote lesser known fish such as reineta (Brama Australis, promfret) in their restaurant but also in outreach events.
- They’ve learnt to exploit species that were a nuisance in some areas and ate other fish such as the giant squid who ravaged hake in the 5th region.
- Some, e.g. @reineta flaca, use social media to promote fish consumption by providing fish news, warning when a boat full of reinetas has arrived in port.
- They apply a fair price for fishermen and for customers: no fish dish costs over €10.
- They apply a single price: all fish dishes costs 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 dishes such as 'caldo de congrio’ (conger soup) or ‘merluza austral a la lata’ (baked hake). Here is a recipe (in Spanish) for caldillo de congrio.
- Most importantly, in order to spread knowledge and food, they encourage fishermen to come to the restaurant to eat and talk to customers about fish. They also invite tour guides, cooks and other institutions. I know that my award-winning local butchers organise masterclasses, but these are a little expensive and only affordable to a few. What if pubs and restaurants in the UK organised something similar or even have their own cook share a recipe?
- In partnership with Fundación Cocinamar, they work with small producers to study the organoleptic properties of fish and how to exploit them (how to cook them, what to serve them with and who to sell them to). Example: in the centre of the Atacama Desert, they farm ‘vidriola’ (S. lalandi, palometa chilena or yellowtail amberjack) which promote in gastro fairs and export to Italy.
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 pan fried or oven-baked.
- If you buy it whole, prep will take longer, but you will be rewarded with a 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.
- Fish does not have to be expensive. If you look at this list from an upmarket supermarket, you'll see that some are pretty affordable. Smoked mackerel, like trout, makes a healthy, tasty and affordable quick supper, great with something sweet like sweet potato, celeriac or Jerusalem artichoke mash. Mix it up and tailor it to your budget. Some of the cheaper fish is also very good for you as it is high in good fats, for example, sardines or mackerel.
- Finally, I'd rather eat a mouthful exploding with taste than lifeless stodgy fish cake mush. When food is tasty, you need less to feel satisfied.