Our seafood riches are receiving greater recognition at home, though generously we still export the majority.
With around 20,000 miles of coastline (France has around 2,000), it’s no wonder Britain produces masses of seafood. We export most of it, but thanks to Rick Stein and his contemporaries we have become more adventurous than our whelks-doused-in-vinegar parents. Some fine British suppliers are supporting those chefs, and us, by bringing the best to market.
Selwyn’s Penclawdd Seafoods
Cockles are particularly loved in Wales, forming a perfect breakfast partnership with laverbread. Selwyn’s do both, along with mussels. "We mainly get our cockles from the Burry Inlet or the River Dee in North Wales. About 90 per cent of it gets exported - canned and sent to the Barcelona Market," says the company’s Ashley Jones. "Tapas bars love canned shellfish, but in the UK we are used to having them fresh. We also purify the live cockles for the UK market – Jamie Oliver’s a customer – they look great on the plate and they have all the juices for flavour." One up for British taste?
Some products, however, don’t travel: "Laverbread is nearly all sold in South Wales – it’s a delicacy really only eaten here," says Ashley.
Islay Crab Exports
Islay’s foodie reputation waxes daily, fabulous seafood resources being one of the reasons why. "We actually sell more of our scallops in the UK than go for export, a lot of them from local day-boats. I love crab too but personally if I had to recommend one seafood from the island it would be scallops – they are delicious and pretty much ready for the pan as they come," says Fiona McFarlane of Islay Crab Exports. The presence of chef Francois Bernier is another major plus for Islay’s gastronomic reputation - seared local scallops flambéd in Bunnahabhain single malt is one of his signature dishes.
Colchester Oyster Fishery
It’s wrong to think of our love of seafood as recent. Talking about the native oysters his company sells, Graham Larkin of Colchester Oyster Fishery says: "They’re special partly because of the history of oyster fishing here, going back to Roman times." But they’re a true regional speciality too. "Because of the special environment in which they thrive (very rich in algae), they fatten quickly here – with a mild winter we can get them from spat to marketable size in 18 months which is pretty good for oysters," Graham continues.
Most stretches of coast offer something special. For example, head north from Colchester and you’ll encounter smoked Suffolk sprats in Aldeburgh; Cromer crab; and on the North Norfolk coast Stiffkey Blues, a local cockle. And then there are Whitstable oysters, Dorset crab...
What is your favourite British seafood offering? And how is it best served?
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