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Why is wild salmon so expensive?

Why is wild salmon so expensive?

A fishmonger's opinion - wild salmon

Itís early June 2018 and we are into the sea trout and wild salmon season.

Sea trout are dropping in price as they become more plentiful, and if this year is as good as last year, we will be happy.

Wild salmon, like sea trout, will drop in price as the season progresses through the summer, but they are never cheap. Not like the days when salmon was cheap and thought of as poor-quality food. Iíve read stories of pupils at private schools in the 1800s being told they would only have to eat salmon (all wild in those days) three times a week.

So why is wild salmon so scarce now?

First of all, salmon going upstream to breed do not really eat. They may take the odd fly, but the fact they are not looking for food is why they are hard to catch. When we used to have big wooden boxes of wild salmon in the 1960s you would always get one fish that was white-fleshed because it had become trapped in fresh water for a long time and lost its pink colour that it had got from eating crustaceans in the sea.

But the main reason for the massive drop in salmon catches is because the areas where salmon fed at sea were discovered in the late 1950s Ė off Greenland. Before this the life of the salmon was a mystery. In the 1960s Norwegian, Faroese, Danish and Greenland fishing boats started fishing with drift nets of up to 5kg long, and the area became the biggest salmon fishery of all time. In 1971 2700 tonnes of salmon were caught. In the fishmonger-fish wholesaler world the blame is always put onto two Danish fishing boats that maintained radio silence when fishing for salmon. These large ships caught thousands and thousands of tonnes of wild sea salmon. In our small shop in Smelly Alley, Reading, we would have three 100lb cardboard boxes of wild salmon a week. The salmon were skin damaged because they had been badly handled on the deck of the fishing boats, then frozen. But they were cheaper than herrings, which at the time were our cheapest fish. There were 16,000 fishmongers in those days, not the 300 that there are today, so you can imagine the volume of wild salmon that was sold.

These fish werenít just being sold in the UK, but worldwide, for approximately 12 to 15 years. The Danish boats kept going until there werenít many salmon left.

Not much is known about this phase in the history of salmon fishing. I have seen, after much searching, a few reports and a chapter in Biological Diversity by Paul Hatcher and Nick Battey, published in 2011. I do know that questions were asked in Parliament, and fears were expressed that salmon would become extinct.

In my opinion, as a fishmonger, it will take 300 years to build up stocks, if recovery is possible at all.

Created On  6 Jun 2018 18:57  -  Permalink

Fish sold in supermarkets

This is what we see on supermarket fish. 

We think the texture and flavour of fish deteriorates when it is frozen, maybe not by much, but the labels on supermarket fish advise you that you can go on and freeze this fish AGAIN, and every freezing is another step in the decline in the fish's flavour and texture.
Our fresh fish is FRESH, it's never been frozen, and it's often caught the day before it's on sale in our fishmongers and online.

What's the point of buying defrosted fish when you can buy it fresh from a real fishmonger?
Created On  14 Dec 2016 7:07 in Did you know?  -  Permalink

Clams in Portugal

Clams in Portugal

Clams in Portugal

Liz and I took a weekís holiday and flew to the Algarve. We were testing what Portugal would be like before driving there later in the year. We hired a car and, not being people who sit on the beach, we drove up in the hills where we found a restaurant with people sitting outside eating clams in the sun. There were plenty of customers enjoying the wine and tucking into fish or fancy cakes.

In the restaurant was a young woman who was nervously chain-smoking with her long hair in curlers. She had a loud American accent, and her appearance was scruffy. I noticed there were cameramen with tripods. They called her outside, and dressed her in clothes that clearly didnít fit so they proceeded to put large clips up her back to gather in the extra material. They took a lot of photographs, then she went inside to have more cigarettes and coffee. It was a photoshoot for a clothes catalogue. Occasionally the young woman was joined by a man for happy family shots - he appeared from nowhere and was immaculately dressed, he didnít need any clips. He never spoke but was a square-jawed American hero that all the clothes fitted. We went outside to avoid the chain-smoking woman and sat at a table outside. Liz then looked back at the restaurant and saw a cat waiting at the kitchen door. At that time we had 8 cats, now 21, and Liz wanted to say "helloĒ to the cat so we walked to the door where the cat was waiting. We heard lots of people shouting "olé! olé! olé! olé!Ē and the noise of dancing could be heard. As the waiter came out of the door with two bowls of clams, the cat slipped in. When the door opened again the cat came out with a giant live cockroach in his mouth, which he began to eat. The "olés!Ē were obviously the chefs jumping on the roaches whilst cooking. Maybe we should have left, but we were hungry and those clams sure smelt good. They had cooked the garlic whole until it was caramelized, and with lots of clams and crusty bread it was delicious.

Back at home we wanted to recreate this dish but we couldnít make it work. We began to think the missing ingredient was cockroaches. Then I asked Fernando, a good Portuguese customer of ours, how itís done.

Hereís his garlic clam recipe:

Chop up a small amount garlic finely, with a little thyme or oregano. Add to this lots of whole, peeled garlic cloves. Heat about a centimetre of olive oil in a pan, when the oil is hot drop in all the garlic and cook uncovered until the garlic cloves are golden. Meanwhile, soak the clams for 15 minutes in seawater or very salty water to re-hydrate them. Do not use any clams that that will not shut even if you tap them. Slice up some chilli really finely, about two will do. When the garlic is really well cooked, strain the clams and tip them in the pan with the chilli. Put a lid on the pan and leave cooking for about three minutes. Check to see if the clams have opened. If they have, transfer the clams, chillis, oil and garlic into a serving dish. Donít use a plate as you need to keep all the olive oil to dip your crusty bread into. Serve with a robust red wine.

Find clams here.

Created On  2 Aug 2016 17:46 in Did you know?  -  Permalink




Cuttlefish are like squid to eat, and donít need tenderising like octopus. Spring is the main fishing time for cuttlefish, Iíve seen tons landed in Poole at Frank Greensladeís, his whole working area was covered in black ink that went into his house and made the walls and carpet sodden with black ink. I asked him how he was going to clean it up he said we just call in a firm to lay new carpets and refurbish the house, we do this every year. I asked him how could afford that every year. His answer was we sell all these to Italy and you donít know how much profit we make. Large cuttlefish are very sustainable as they only live 2 years. Like all fish large cuttlefish have more flavour and itís the first fish I ate raw, in Thailand in the 70s.

Get your fishmonger to clean and skin them and save the ink or buy squid ink freeze dried (it will say itís squid ink but itís mostly cuttlefish ink as squid or octopus donít produce anywhere as much ink as cuttlefish). The ink has a distinct flavour, slightly fishy slightly burnt, if you have tasted black pasta, you would have tried it. Cook as you would squid, as little as possible to keep it tender. Fresh squid is getting difficult to buy at the right price because of shortages, and cuttlefish taste better. Although cuttlefish is available over most of the world, I donít think it is around the Americas. If this is true can somebody tell us why?

Find them here.

Created On  27 Jul 2016 8:20 in Did you know?  -  Permalink




Sardines: the healthiest thing you can eat on the planet. With niacin, omega3 and vitaminB2, plus, as you eat the bones, calcium.

The 1920s were the peak time for sardine fishing, but because of bad transportation and too large catches, causing pressure on the fish making them break up, they were sold locally or went for fish meal or canning.

From the 70s until the 90s we got our sardines flown over from Portugal. Then the local councils and other marine organisations in southwest England changed how the sardines were treated after they were caught, by keeping them in seawater and ice (salt and ice have a reaction that dramatically lowers temperatures*). In the 90s the old Cornish pilchard trade, for thatís what sardines are, took off in a big way.

The best time to eat sardines is from August to February; before August they can be a little soft because of their high oil content. If you eat them in Spain they are cooked with the gut in, itís removed when they are served up Ė thatís how you would have had them on holiday. British people like them ready-cleaned. This is fine if you like headless sardines, when you take the head off you take the gut away at the same time, and the sardine is basically intact. Now, because of Mediterranean holidays, some people want their sardines head-on, this means you have to cut into the gut, so they start to break and go soft. So go for headless sardines! You can BBQ them, or grill or bake them. Try them fried with marjoram or thyme sprinkled on at the end of the cooking, served up with Cornish sea salt.

*The whole subject of salt, water and ice is very complicated, something to do with Le Chatelier's principle, if anybody can explain it simply, we would be grateful!

You'll find them here.

Created On  25 Jul 2016 13:24 in Did you know?  -  Permalink

Scallops July 2016

Scallops - a fine shellfish!

The main part we eat is the muscle that opens and closes the pretty shell, the one that looks like the petrol station sign.

The other part is the roe (or coral), there is a debate as to whether the roe should be served or not, more about this.

The most common scallop is the American variety, these are caught off the USA in areas like New Bedford. They are completely different from European scallops in flavour and the fact that they are strictly caught without roe. I remember one of those shouty TV chefs berating at one of his chefs because he cooked a scallop with roe on. He said he had never seen anything so disgusting, but thatís probably only because he had ever cooked American scallops. If you know our British scallops, the truth is that American scallops, even though they are flown in fresh, are inferior - in comparison their flavour is watery and poor. These are the scallops often found in restaurants because they are cheaper, as price is what drives restaurants.

So for the best scallops look to home Ė and like all seafood, let us chose some great scallops for you (that's if you can't come into the fishmongers and chose them yourself!)  and thne cook them yourself. Cooking advice - a very hot pan, like a griddle or frying pan, a thin coating of oil on the pan, then just two minutes each side. You'll see the scallop gradually going more opaque from the pan up, flip them over, but DON'T overcook! Serve as they are, with a wedge of lemon, and a simple salad. It's that easy.

There are three types of British scallops that youíll find, depending on where you shop


Dry (or washed)


Dry-dry are the best, it means they are just out of the shell, and donít come into contact with any extra water. Scallops should not be washed as they absorb water, by as much as 25%, and this affects flavour and taste. THESE ARE THE SCALLOPS YOU WILL GET IF YOU ORDER FROM US! You can also buy empty shells from us, they are great for serving scallops in the traditional dish Coquilles St Jacques, or any starter that involves shellfish.

Dry (or washed) are cheaper because they have absorbed water, but they are soft when you eat them.

Soaked are common in Cornwall, they are fairly tasteless as they have as much as 25% water, but they appear cheaper because you are paying for the water. Supermarkets often used soaked scallops because they are in a price war situation, but as with all fish, cheapness with fish is not something to aspire to.

Shetland scallops are usually the best because they are usually dry-dry, YES THOSE ARE THE ONES YOU WILL GET IF YOU ORDER FROMUS!

To recognise a good scallop, look for them to be plump and bright Ė meaning that the colour is clear and they just look attractive. Some scallops are slightly darker than others, this is not bad, just look for them to be bright and the scallop looks quite solid. If they are soaked, the colour deteriorates and they are softer.

There is a new craze for "divedĒ scallops, it seems that every restaurant is selling these. But there are not enough divers to supply all these scallops, so be wary when you see this word. All the divers are licenced, and there are two women divers.

Queen scallops are a different species, they are small and are usually sold out of the shell and frozen. They donít have added water so are not a bad buy, even if they are frozen. Maybe keep them for fish stews, scallops with garlic etc.

Scallops are here.

Created On  9 Jul 2016 8:43 in Did you know?  -  Permalink