Fish is packed with vitamins and minerals, and a major source of omega-3 fatty acids. Eating a diet that regularly includes fish can help to protect against a range of diseases, from cancer to heart disease, depression to arthritis. So, it’s a superfood – and one that’s readily available in the UK. But unlike in Mediterranean countries, we don’t tend to eat as much fish as we should. One of the main reasons for this is thought to be unfamiliarity with cooking fish dishes, and a fear of the fishy unknown.
A seafood course can take the fear out of preparing fish, and give you the knowledge and skills to go home and enjoy preparing fish in your own kitchen.
The health benefits of eating seafood
The Food Standards Agency recommends that we eat at least two portions a week of fresh, frozen, or tinned seafood. One of these should be oily fish, such as sardines, herring, salmon, trout and mackerel.
Eating plenty of fish reduces your risk of a number of illnesses, such as:
· Heart disease – oily fish in particular decreases your risk of developing heart disease, but also improves your chances if you do suffer a heart attack.
· Alzheimer’s – fatty acids found in fish help prevent damage to brain cells.
· Cancer – shellfish such as crab and lobster contain selenium, which is thought to have cancer-fighting properties.
· Depression – it is thought that Omega-3 raises levels of serotonin, which combats depression.
What happens on a seafood course?
So, you’re convinced of the benefits and want to eat more fish – what next? A seafood course will give you a thorough introduction to preparing and cooking fish. Some courses will also include an introduction to shellfish. Seafood courses tend to be very hands on and involve you preparing your own fish dishes in the kitchen facilities provided. They usually include a meal at the end of the course – often a good chance to sit down, enjoy your hard work, make friends with your classmates and (a very important bit!) learn more about what wines go best with those fish dishes.
Seafood courses will often go through most of the following skills:
Fish identification – fishmongers are usually happy to help you pick out fish, but knowing a bit more (what do those oily fish superfoods actually look like?) about what’s what will give you extra confidence when you next go to the fish counter.
Cleaning, scaling, de-gilling and gutting fish – the prospect of being faced with a whole fish, untouched by a fishmonger, can be daunting one. But a seafood course will teach you the basics of these skills so you can buy fish whole – or better yet, catch your own – and prepare it for cooking.
Filleting fish – again, one of those skills that’s easy when you know how. Once your fish is ready for filleting, you’ll learn how to use a sharp filleting knife for this task. A seafood course will help you develop the essential knife skills for filleting, which is a useful skill even if you don’t intend to catch your own fish. Buying whole fish from a fishmonger represents better value for money, and it’s also easier to tell how fresh a fish is, since you can have a good look at the specimen before filleting.
Did you know? When shopping for a whole fish, choose one with firm flesh that springs back when pressed; eyes should be shiny and clear; and it should smell like the ocean, not fish. Ask the fishmonger to scale and gut the fish, and then fillet yourself – using the bones and scraps for fish stock.
Fish cookery – fish is extremely versatile and can be grilled, smoked, baked, and fried – to name a few. A seafood course will teach you some popular fish recipes, so when you’re choosing your course it’s a good idea to see what recipes you’ll learn. Pate, chowder, and curry are three examples of popular dishes, but the possibilities are endless.
After a seafood course
You should leave your course with greater confidence about buying and preparing fish, along with some recipes to get you started with cooking fish at home. Follow up courses could focus solely on cooking shellfish, or wine tasting could teach you exactly what you should be drinking with your fish – or you might even feel inspired to learn how to catch your own on a fly fishing course!
By Fiona Hughes