National Fish & Chip Awards 2012

There’s never been any doubt in our minds that Whitby is Britain’s epicentre of quality fish and chips and its status was confirmed again this week by its showing at the National Fish and Chip awards. It was a particularly good night for the Quayside, runner-up as the best independent chippie and third as the nation’s best takeaway. Trencher’s of Whitby shared the runner-up prize as best independent. And a third Whitby chippie, Royal Fisheries (in the same Fusco family as Quayside) won the staff training award.

You’ll notice that Whitby’s most famous fish and chip emporium is nowhere to be seen. Nothing against them but they get so much free publicity from journos who think they’re the only show in town that it’s good to see the accolades shared around. Just for good measure we’ve a soft spot for Mr Chips and on a summer evening as the sun goes down the sea views from Graveley’s half way up the Khyber Pass are almost tropically stunning. And while we’re at it the chippies at two Cleveland villages off the beaten track – Liverton Mines and Skinningrove – are the business.

To round off the awards, Brid’s Fish and Chips at 149 have two certificates to put on the wall; one as runner-up for staff training and, to prove it, the second went to Cori Standing, runner-up as Young Fish Frier of the Year. And, as the Dodo said in Alice in Wonderland, ‘All must have prizes’ so a final standing ovation for Morrison’s supermarkets of Bradford, runner-up in the category ‘Best Food Service Outlet Serving Fish and Chips Award.’ Must confess to never having tried them.

Fish in Yorkshire

Trawlers in Whitby harbour

There’s a long history, an enduring fascination and a rich bounty in the fish to be found in the water in and around Yorkshire.

Princess Aelfleda of Whitby Abbey put out to sea in a fishing boat in 654 AD and the last pike in the Abbey pond perished in a drought in the 1980s and there are still native white clawed crayfish – albeit protected – in the highest moorland reaches of the Rivers Wharfe, Ure and Swale.

The greatest source of Yorkshire fish is naturally to be found off Yorkshire’s east coast. A big fish angler once hooked a 700lbs tunny which took him five hours to land, and hauled his rowing boat 12 miles in the process. In the 18th century thousands of whales were harpooned among the icebergs to be landed in Yorkshire ports (along with sea horses and polar bears).

Grimsby is now the European headquarters of the fish finger and the ocean stick and holds one of the country’s biggest fish auctions, though now the fish is more likely to travel by road and container from Iceland than from UK trawlers.

Yorkshire fish is found in Yorkshire rivers. Wild salmon are present in seven rivers, including the Don, once one of the most polluted rivers in England. The return of wild salmon to our rivers is one of the best wildlife stories of the decade.

Cross's fish stall on York Market

When buying fish, markets, especially Leeds and York remain a prime source for the Yorkshire fish shopper now that most high street fishmongers have had to give way to supermarket fish counters. Inexperienced staff and slow-moving stock can make supermarket fish a hit and miss affair.

We couldn’t talk about fish and seafood without considering sustainability. According to the Marine Conservation Society, (MCS) the charity helping to protect the marine environment, we are taking fish out of the sea faster than they can be replenished. Some nets trawl the sea bed damaging the marine life and upsetting the whole eco system.

Nor is farmed fish the answer because it uses more fish to make fish food than it actually produces. How and what we fish is now an issue.

The EU Common Fisheries Policy was devised to help conserve fish stocks, but one of its most contentious aspects is the use of quotas. Quotas are limits on certain species of fish that fishermen are allowed to catch. Once they have reached their quota of, say cod, they are forced to throw back any more cod that comes up in their nets. This means that prime fish like cod, haddock, coley, whiting and plaice are being thrown back dead into the sea. It’s a situation disliked by both fishermen, conservationist and politicians. In 2011 the CFP comes under review and campaigners are pressing for a change in the quota system with the  Fish Fight Campaign

The Marine Conservation Society still urge us to eat fish but ask that we choose Yorkshire fish that comes from responsibly managed sources.

What applies to the fish shopper also applies to restaurants. It’s difficult to know where restaurants source their fish, but if you get to know what fish are endangered, you can do your bit, by not ordering from the menu and encouraging chefs to only offer fish from sustainable sources. Check out the MCS website and download their Good Fish Guide or go to www.fishonline.org for information on what fish to eat and what to avoid.

Tom Aiken’s Easy


I love the cover of Tom Aikens new book Tom Aikens Easy, it’s a textured blue and white linen tea towel, though I can’t help thinking Aiken probably doesn’t do much wiping up these days.

He’s the chef of the very smart Michelin starred, Tom Aikens restaurant in Chelsea but who knows, maybe he gets down with the pot wash at his other places, the more relaxed Tom’s Kitchen in Chelsea and at Somerset House.

Tom Aikens Easy is Aiken’s third book full of simple, homely recipes that aren’t in the least bit cheffy. You won’t need a kitchen brigade or a litre of veal stock to make anything in here. Chapters are divided into healthy breakfasts, light bites, fast fixes, weekend cooking, sweet things and leftovers. The only thing lacking is Aiken’s own voice. If he wrote the book himself, it would have been good to hear more from him, but maybe he’s the tormented chef that spends all his time in the kitchen creating.

If so, he’s put together some good looking recipes.  Tempting dishes include  white onion soup with Gruyere croutons, ham and mustard macaroni, chocolate banana bread and fish recipes using sustainable fish like mackerel and mussels, part of his support for the Marine Conservation Society the charity dedicated to saving our seas, (he’s just run the London marathon for them).

The winning recipe though has got to be his terrific Salmon Baked with Juniper and Lemon Thyme, It takes just minutes to prepare and is brilliant. Slice a salmon fillet into four very thin slices – like carpaccio. Sprinkle four pieces of parchment with olive oil, salt and pepper, crushed juniper berries and lemon thyme and place a slice of  salmon on top of each. Scatter with more herbs. Place on a hot tray in a hot oven for 2-3 minutes. A perfect dish for this gorgeous spring weather with new potatoes and a green salad.

Fish Fight

Half of all the fish caught in the North Sea is thrown back overboard dead, according to a new campaign supported by the Marine Conservation Society and TV chef and campaigner Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

It’s all to do with quotas and the Common Fisheries Policy which was established to help conserve fish stocks. Quotas put limits on how much of each species  fishermen can catch. The trouble comes when they reach their quota but are still netting the ‘wrong’ species along with other fish. This means that prime fish like cod, haddock, whiting and plaice have to be thrown back into the water dead.

Everyone, fishermen, conservationists and politicians know this is a senseless waste of good fish. The CFP comes under review early in January and the Fish Fight Campaign is asking for supporters to sign up to try and get the rules changed.

You can read more about it at www.fishfight.net. The campaign will launch in January with the start of a new Channel 4 series presented by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall called ‘Hugh’s Fish Fight’. So if like us you care about the fish in our seas, sign up now.

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