Sustainable Fish Doesn’t Have to be a Lemon

Cod is almost universally loved among fish eaters, and with good reason.  It’s a large fish with flaky, tender white flesh that is mildly flavoured, yet robust enough to stand up to battering, smoking or any number of sauces.  However this fish’s popularity has been its undoing.

Since the mid 90’s, the  population of the Atlantic cod has declined sharply, as much as 95% in some stocks.  Even with carefully managed fishing practices, the populations have been slow to recover.  The Atlantic Cod is now categorised as a threatened species and is rapidly approaching “endangered” status.

As an apex predator, the loss of the Cod would be disastrous for our oceans.  However, the good news is that there are several alternatives to cod, so you can help protect this vulnerable fish without losing out!

Monkfish, coley, hake and pollock are all delicious alternatives to the threatened Atlantic Cod.  As with all fish though, it is important that you source your fish through shops or fish mongers who can tell how where and how the fish was caught – there’s no point in switching to monkfish if it’s been caught by trawler .  I’ve found Sustainable Fish City, to be a good resource.

In fact, at the local market this past Sunday the fish monger there had some beautiful little seabass which had been line caught.  Would I like a few fillets? Yes, I would!  One for Gar, one for me, and one for the cats, of course. (Hey, when you have three of them, the peer pressure can be incredible.)

We had our fleshy, robust hake last night with the butternut squash, so tonight was sea bass night.    I couldn’t help but smile as I unwrapped them at how they gleamed and flashed like silver bars.

As pretty as newly minted coins!
As pretty as newly minted coins!

Sea bass is more delicate than a lot of other white fish and requires a subtle touch.  I couldn’t think of any better way of cooking these little beauties than simply folding them into an aluminium tent seasoned with nothing more than a sprig of dill and a pair of mint leaves from my kitchen garden.

A fish like this needs little help to be flavoursome.
A fish like this needs little help to be flavoursome.

With the oven preheated to 180*c (350*f) I popped them in for 12 minutes.  Plenty of time to prepare the sauce!

Lemon Dill Sauce

Servings: 5

Calories per serving:  Approx. 50

You will need:

1 tablespoon butter (go for the real stuff!)

1 tablespoon flour

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

3/4 cup milk (I use 2%, naturally if you use whole your calorie values will change)

zest of one whole lemon

fresh dill

In a deep bottomed saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat and add the flour, stirring constantly.  When the flour/butter combination forms “balls”, add the lemon juice and stir until absorbed.  Add in the milk and lemon zest, stirring continuously.  When the sauce begins to bubble at the edges, turn the heat down to a low medium.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Keep stirring the sauce as it thickens as this will prevent lumps forming.  You’ll see those butter and flour balls dissolve in the sauce as it cooks.  It should finish cooking just before the fish is ready to come out of the oven.  Turn the heat off under the sauce, toss in the fresh dill and stir once more.  Plate the fish and by the time you are ready the dill will have infused the sauce.  (Don’t let the sauce rest too long or it will thicken to a paste!  If this happens, add a little milk and heat it very, very gently until the sauce is looser, though this will impact the flavour of your sauce.)

That gloss on the sauce is why you use real butter!
That gloss on the sauce is why you use real butter!

I love this recipe, it couldn’t be simpler yet it creates a silky, smooth sauce the colour of sunlight that doesn’t overpower delicate fish like sea bass, but can stand up to hake and pollack, even smoked salmon!  The subtle dill offers a wonderful counterpoint to the sharp, fragrant oils from the lemon zest and pairs so well with the mint that the fish was baked with.

A normal serving of this sauce is about two tablespoons, but if you’re like my fiance and like a bit of fish with your sauce, you may need to ladle more on!

If you look closely, you can just about find the fish under the sauce!
If you look closely, you can just about find the fish under the sauce!

I would encourage everyone to experiment with making their own white sauces, the basic butter and flour (or roux) and milk recipe is simple, rich and very flexible.  Play with it, the possibilities are nearly endless.

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