A load of old Cobblers

Four reasons to say ‘pollocks’ to supermarket fish


We’re in Cornwall with the freshest fish available to pretty much all of us within a few miles from our local fishmonger, so why do so many people still go to the supermarket and buy tasteless Vietnamese River Cobbler?

What is ‘fresh’?

Imported fish such as Vietnamese River Cobbler is farmed in somewhat dubious conditions in rivers in Vietnam where it is frozen and transported to the UK. It is often then defrosted and sold in supermarkets as a fresh product, a fact only discovered by investigating the small print.

Often supermarkets get their stock from central distribution centres so in some cases a fish may have travelled long distances before arriving at your local store. Some fish can be held on ice before making the long journey to the supermarket, meaning that by the time they reach your fridge they could be several days old.

But, technically, they have never been fully frozen so can still be sold as ‘fresh’. That means they carry the same labelling as fish caught on Britain’s coast, when the time from net to slab can be just 24 hours.

That could be 24 minutes if you buy from your local fisherman or fishmonger and the way to check freshness is to look into their eyes! A supermarket fish will stare back at you with dead, lifeless eyes, a freshly caught fish will look at you with bright, clear eyes and you can even have a chat about where it was caught!

A lot of us are a bit squeamish about gutting the fish – don’t worry! We’ve never yet met a fishmonger who won’t do this for you – they’ll want to show off their fancy knife skills anyway!

Supermarkets are cheaper, aren’t they?

Really? Tesco’s website has ‘Finest Cornish Monkfish’ at £40 per kilo. It’s not fresh and it’s definitely not cheap! Even ‘Healthy Eating Basa Fillets’ are £6.50 per kilo, even if we knew what a Basa was! And yes, it is of course yet another name for Vietnamese river cobbler! Your local fishmonger can certainly better supermarket prices, he’ll have a wide variety, give you advice on cooking – and you can’t haggle with a supermarket.

Is it horse?

A recent survey carried out by University of Salford found that 7% of the fish we buy in supermarkets is not what we think it is – at £16.67 per kilo for sea bass fillets at Tesco, it would be nice to know we’re buying the real thing! Perhaps it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise given that we’ve been eating Dobbin Lasagnes for quite a while. Telling different fish apart, especially when it is frozen, is tricky, and the Salford research shows that we can’t separate one from the other by taste either.

Your friendly fishmonger will definitely be able to identify sea bass from sea trout!

That warm feeling inside

You feel pretty good when you buy veg, meat or bread from a local Farmer’s Market, you’re supporting the local community, keeping the ‘food miles’ down and somehow, it just tastes better. You’ll get the same feeling when you buy from your local fishmonger as they buy fish directly from fishermen or from local fish markets like Newlyn and Brixham, who in turn buy their fish from local fishermen keeping everything local.

So, give supermarket fish the elbow, say ‘hi’ to your local fishmonger and tonight you could be feeding the family on super fresh Baked Mackerel with English Mustard for just a couple of quid.
Check out our ‘Recipes & More’ page for this and other mouth-watering dishes.

With thanks to Tim Palmer

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