For an island surrounded by waters yielding an abundant variety of fish and shellfish, we Irish consume very little fish. In fact, the vast majority of fish caught in Irish waters are exported to the likes of Spain, France, Italy and Poland, where it is guzzled up with relish. In contrast, many Irish people are stuck with the tired mentality that fish is a punishment food, reserved for Fridays, when historically, eating meat was discouraged. Fish wasn’t meant to be enjoyed, and so no real effort was made to embrace what can be a versatile, healthy, cheap and greener alternative to meat.
The benefits of a diet rich in fish are well known; but you may not be aware that it is recommended that we consume fish at least twice a week, including one portion of oily fish, such as salmon, sardines, trout or mackerel. Fish is an excellent source of high biological value protein, which means it can be broken down by the body easily, to be used in the growth and repair of muscles, as well as the production of hormones, enzymes, and antibodies. Fish also supplies us with vitamins D and B, as well as a host of minerals to boost your health and wellbeing. One of the primary benefits of fish in the diet is that it does not contain saturated fats, which can contribute to cholesterol and heighten the risk of coronary heart disease. Instead, oily fish like salmon is rich in Omega-3, which has a multitude of health benefits, such as reducing the risk of heart disease, potentially aiding mental health, and improving brain development. There is even some research to suggest a possible link between fish and enhanced concentration. For this reason, fish is often termed ‘brain food.’ Even in Irish mythology, in the story of ‘An Bradán Feasa’ – otherwise known as the salmon of knowledge – fish was associated with heightened knowledge and wisdom. So, with exams and assignments just around the corner, why not give fish a try?
Irish fish can be purchased from almost all supermarkets, just search for produce with the Bord Bia Quality Assurance symbol or visit your local fishmonger for high quality fresh fish. Bring the fish home and store it in the fridge immediately to preserve its freshness, as it can go off very easily when not refrigerated. If you don’t think that buying fresh fish is practical for you, don’t despair! Tinned fish carries its own benefits of heightened calcium levels, due to the edible softened bones in the fish. Most of us will also be familiar with frozen fish, which may not match the flavour and texture of fresh fish, but nevertheless is a handy method of including more fish in the diet, and is often coated in tasty crumb coats or batter. Fish fingers or breaded frozen fish with oven baked chips or home-made wedges is a fail-safe supper if you’re not in the mood for much food preparation in the evening. Another cheat way to include more fish in your diet is to buy hot-smoked fish. Having already been cooked, hot-smoked fish is ready to be included in pasta bakes, fish pie, tacos, wraps or however you choose to enjoy fish, with no time wasted in cooking.
Whether you’re buying your fish from the supermarket, or fishmonger; fresh, tinned or frozen, try to opt for sustainable fish if available. This simply means that the fish is caught in a way that allows stocks to replenish, minimising damage to marine life. As well as that, it’s good to try out different kinds of fish, straying away from familiar favourites like salmon and cod every now and then, as these are sometimes subject to overfishing. Try swapping cod for hake, or sardines for tuna, for instance. You might just find that you prefer a bit of variety!
In terms of culinary inspiration, there are so many exciting ways to include fish in the diet. I always rely on Bord Bia’s website for straightforward fish recipes that promote Irish produce, in a fuss-free, easily followed way. As well as that, eatmorefish.ie provides recipe inspiration, fish delivery services and practical advice on storing fish if you’re still uncertain about where to begin with eating fish. Think outside of the frozen fish box, and try out fish curries, fish tacos and pasta bakes. Mimic your favourite fish and chip shop by trying out your own battered cod at home, or coating your fish in an easily prepared layer of breadcrumbs for a delicious oven-baked crunch. Leftover spud in the fridge? Why not try making some fish cakes; they’re surprisingly easy to make, and you can’t beat the homemade kind. You could even try adding prawns to your next stir fry, as they cook so quickly there’s no excuse not to. Or, for a comforting winter-warming classic, you can’t beat a good fish pie. When push comes to shove, however, there’s nothing wrong with some fish fingers for supper; guaranteed to take you back to childhood.