Rick Stein began to consider sustainability in seafood in the 1970s. He had just opened his first harbour-side bistro, “The Seafood Restaurant”, in Cornwall, UK, and the effects of the growing popularity of seafood were starting to show. “After a couple of years or so, I noticed that the size and quantity of wild salmon coming in through the kitchen door from local fishermen was starting to decrease, the same with spiny lobsters,” says Stein. “Even then, I began to realise that certain species were being overfished.”
At the time, the fishing industry was just starting to expand its aquaculture and fish farming practices to fulfil demand. Since then, the global appetite for seafood has ensured that fish farming has overtaken wild catch to the extent that global aquaculture now produces 100 million tonnes of farmed seafood. (By comparison, in 1990 that figure was 17 million). Concurrently, of course, there has also been a strain on wild catch with an estimated 80% of global marine fish stocks fully exploited or overfished.
For Stein, this change in industry practice over the past few decades has meant he and his chefs (he runs 10 restaurants in England and two in Australia) have focused on building solid relationships with local producers, who operate sustainable practices. And that’s key, he says, for ensuring the best ingredients. “The onus isn’t on you [as a restaurant owner] to know it all but if you don’t know, you need to trust someone who does,” he explains. “Now, I’m very lucky in that I know many of the people that directly supply me with what they’ve caught or harvested.”
T Australia spoke to Rick Stein about sustainability in seafood, why Australians love fish pie and which wine to air with his famous recipe.
What’s your advice to restaurant owners who want to make sure there are serving sustainable food?
“Have a good relationship with your suppliers and inform. yourself with education. I am very happy to tell you how the produce came to me and who it was caught by because I believe in the product, and if I don’t know then I will ask someone who does. A fabulous book to add to your shelves is “Australian Fish & Seafood Cookbook” (Murdoch Books, $79.99) by John Susman, Anthony Huckstep, Sarah Swan, Stephen Hodges. Not only a great cookbook but a resource in seasonality, catching methods, identifiable features and sustainability.”
How does this translate to eating seafood in restaurants – what questions should we ask before ordering?
“It’s similar. [As a patron] you need to know where your seafood was caught and by what method. If you’re not sure on the sustainability of the product you need to ask if the restaurant is aware. Importantly, if you are not comfortable with their responses then be happy with the choice to not eat it.”
Your fish pie is famous in Australia, why do we love a fish pie, do you think?
“It’s a one-dish wonder! I think when you come to the restaurant you want the opportunity to try as much of the great seafood we have on offer and with the pie, it ticks all the boxes! Local fish, scallops, mussels, and prawns. What more could you want? This pie is always among one of the best-selling dishes in the restaurant, you can bet on that.”
What are your tips for making your fish pie recipe at home?
“Take your time and enjoy the process. I never want to rush a velouté because you will get out all the flavour and silkiness with the time you put in. And a hot pan to sear some nice flavour onto the fish, prawns and scallops is essential. Hot, fast and don’t cook it all the way through; leave it to the final bake in the oven to do the rest. I would pair this pie with a really nice, buttery chardonnay. Something that will stand up to the richness of the sauce.”
Rick Stein’s Famous Fish Pie
200g finely chopped onion
1 quantity velouté made with 2 bay leaves, 1 crushed clove, 1 pinch freshly grated nutmeg (see below for recipe)
30g parmesan cheese, grated
50ml double cream
Juice of ½ lemon
500g mixed seafood: aim for ¾ fish fillet and ¼ shellfish or crustaceans, such as salmon, blue eye, snapper, prawns, scallops and mussels.
30ml vegetable oil
100g button mushrooms, thinly sliced
1tsp French mustard
1tsp truffle oil
For the crust
50g Japanese panko breadcrumbs or fresh breadcrumbs dried out for 10 minutes in a hot oven
30g melted butter
For the velouté
600ml fish stock
1. To make the velouté: Boil the stock and milk together. Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the flour and cook for about 2 minutes without colouring, stirring constantly. When it starts to smell nutty, add a third of the stock and milk texture, and keep stirring until it thickens and is completely smooth. Add another third and stir as before, then add the final third and when smooth, leave to simmer gently for about half an hour. If not using immediately, transfer to a lidded container and refrigerate when cool. You can keep it indefinitely in the fridge if you re-boil it every five days. It doesn’t freeze well.
2. To make the pie: Preheat the oven to 180’C/gas. Slow-cook the onion in the butter in a saucepan for 10 minutes.
3. Make the velouté, adding the bay leaves, clove, and nutmeg. Pour the velouté through a sieve into the sauteed onions and add the parmesan cheese, double cream, and lemon juice, add a little salt if necessary.
4. Cut the fish fillet into bite-size pieces, 3-4 cm long. Season with a little salt and turn over in the flour. Fry for 2-3 minutes in a frying pan over medium heat using the vegetable oil and butter.
5. Remove the fish to your pie dish. Fry the mushrooms in the same pan adding a little salt; stir in the mustard and add to the pie dish. Now add the shellfish or crustaceans to the pie dish. They can be raw or cooked, but if raw scallops or prawns are large, slice them in half. Drizzle the truffle oil over.
6. Pour the sauce over the fish. Mix the breadcrumbs with the melted butter, spread over the top. Bake for 10 minutes.
This recipe can also be found in “Fish and Shellfish” by Rick Stein (BBC Books, $49.99). Photography by James Murphy.