Sustainable Cod – Chef Mitch Tonks

Chef Mitch Tonks
Chef Mitch Tonks

Some of my most enjoyable childhood memories involve eating fish and chips by the coast; it’s still one of my favourite dishes now.

We love our fish in the UK and most of it is eaten as fish and chips, with the top choice still being cod and haddock, and it’s easy to see why, the big juicy white fish lends itself so well to being paired with a really crisp batter. And we’re starting to eat our fish differently now with grilled fish and sides of salads, fish tacos and seafood rolls all becoming more popular and giving us more opportunities to tuck into this great food.

At Rockfish we use the best Norwegian cod, which has unmistakably thick bright white flakes and a delicate fresh fish flavour. It’s guilt free in terms of sustainability, because Norway has the world’s largest cod stock in the Barents Sea so there is a plentiful supply all year round. And, because it’s frozen on the trawler within hours of being caught, it’s great quality. Consumers are much more aware of where their fish is coming from now and we welcome that and have always invested in getting this right so that we can be trusted by them when it comes to sourcing and provenance.

Read About Chef Mitch Tonks & his sustainable cod recipe 

Sustainable Cod Straight From Norway’s Cold, Clear Waters

Norway’s cold, clear waters are home to the world’s largest and most abundant supply of sustainable cod, possibly the best loved fish in the UK. These cod can live up to 40 years and grow up to 2 metres long while weighing 60 kilos! Norwegian line caught cod is a premium product and consistent in quality and production. In my experience and opinion, it is the very best.

World-Leaders in Sustainable Management

Norway is so proud of all its seafood, it’s infectious. The Norwegians are committed to the sea – their coastline is just teeming with cod, and they know it’s vital they protect it. That’s why they ensure their fisheries are sustainable, to ensure the future of their stocks.
Norwegian fishing is a perfect example of man working closely with the environment – all Norwegian cod is MSC certified and the Barents Sea provides Norwegians with the largest growing cod stock in the world. From pioneering management and regulations to diverse fishing fleets, everything they do has sustainability at its heart.

In fact, sustainability has underpinned their entire cod fishing process since 1987, the year the Norwegians first imposed the discard ban. For the years since, there have been virtually no cases of illegal, unreported or unregulated cod fishing in Norwegian waters.

The Norwegian fisheries management system is supported by a long-term, scientific plan. Over the years the industry has evolved from free fishing to strict regulations. Fisheries use a range of catch methods, from trawling to hand-line, and Norway was actually the first country to implement a quota system. The quotas that have been put in place are recommended by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea – a leading international research body which assesses stocks and helps the Norwegians plan for the future. By implementing these strict quotas, it enables them to maintain healthy fish stocks, ensuring they have never – and will never – overfish. Their cod stocks are now at a record high thanks to this careful and clever approach to protecting their seafood, so all their hard work has paid off.

Skrei – Prime Seasonal Cod From Norway

Over 90% of Norway’s cod catches come from the cold, clear waters of the Barents Sea. But, for just a few months a year, the mature cod migrate closer to the Norwegian coastline to breed. The travelling cod develop strengthened muscles and uniquely textured fillets on their long swim, transforming them into a national delicacy known as Skrei.

Only available between January and April, Skrei is a migratory cod that journeys thousands of miles annually from the Barents Sea to Northern Norway. Fishing is a way of life for many Norwegians and each year, this annual phenomenon is met with great excitement and celebration.
Skrei is thought to be one of Norway’s first exports, dating back to the age of the Vikings, its arrival each year enabled Norwegians to live in northern territories when other food sources were scarce, and providing the Vikings with enough protein to travel the vast distances by boat to became the first Europeans to discover the American continent.
Skrei is such a revered product in Norway that it has its own grading standard. Hundreds of millions of Norwegian cod migrate each year back to their spawning grounds of Lofoten and Vesterålen, yet only a small percentage of all landed cod will be branded with the prized dorsal fin Skrei tag, which acts almost like a seal of approval or quality assurance.

To be classified as Skrei the fish needs to be:
• Caught fully grown – as a large mature cod before it has spawned (approx. five years old)
• In pristine condition, with no scratches, bruising or injuries – the fish must look as good as it tastes
• Packed by trained staff within 12 hours of being caught
• Stored on ice at a temperature between 0° and 4° Celsius
• Third party quality controlled by the Fishery Sales Organisation
• Approved sustainable by Marine Stewardship Council
• Whole, fresh Skrei is required to have the Skrei brand fastened to the forward dorsal fin and put in a branded Skrei box

Thanks to its epic journey through icy and dark waters, Skrei is lean and rich in protein, vitamins and minerals, which makes it a hugely versatile, healthy and wholesome food, caught in its prime and in perfect condition. Skrei has firm flesh, with obvious fat lines defining the large bright white flakes which melt away during cooking. The fish can be prepared in a variety of ways and can be enjoyed both raw and cooked.

Delicious as a ceviche; firm textured and sweet, or try just lightly curing it and serving thinly sliced with olive oil, lemon, dill and sea salt as a mouth-watering starter. For a main course, why not try brining some of the loin, then roasting and serving with a little braised fennel and anchovy. With such a delicate, yet full flavour to the meat, the fish can be served simply, with nothing more. After just a short time in the oven, the muscle and fat between the flakes will melt away and you can just push each one off with your fork. For a more traditional approach, serve Skrei simply with boiled potatoes and steamed carrots – letting all the flavours of the fish do the talking.

Frozen-At-Sea (FAS) Cod

The idea of preparing fish at sea is not a new one. Initial attempts were made as early as 1954, and the first fully-fledged Norwegian factory trawler, Longva, was delivered to Ålesund in 1962. The Norwegian FAS fleet all fillet and freeze their catch at sea, and are committed to Norway’s principles of providing sustainable seafood of exceptional quality.

Once again, sustainability is the fundamental principle for FAS fisheries management. All the target stocks of the factory vessels are well placed in the ‘safe zone’ by the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES), and the cod they catch is certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).

To ensure the fish supplied to customers tastes as fresh as possible, the vessel workers carefully fillet, grade, pack and quick-frozen to below -20°C within a few hours of being caught to lock in the Arctic freshness, keeping it tasting as fresh as can be for customers all around the globe – not least our fine UK chippies who adore the consistent quality and freshness of the Norwegian FAS product!

Grilled Norwegian Cod by Mitch Tonks Signature Chefs recipe
Grilled Norwegian Cod Mitch Tonks Signature Chefs recipe

Only The Best Quality Will Do

Fishing is a real craft in Norway and so the Norwegians go to great lengths to ensure that their product is of a high quality. The Norwegians implement stringent checks at every stage of the food chain and undertake extensive research into the health benefits of cod as part of a daily diet. The entire seafood production chain is monitored on behalf of the Norwegian Food Safety Authority and Norway’s processing plants must adhere to a series of strict and rigorous self-check procedures – if products don’t meet the check criteria, they don’t leave the plant. What’s more, the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research routinely checks for contaminants in the Barents Sea, the Norwegian Sea and the open parts of the North Sea and the independent research institute, NIFES, covers the entire food chain, from feed resources to the health effects of seafood consumption. Norway was also one of the first countries to introduce a system for tracing its fish, so now we can all see where each fish comes from and track its health. Impressive!

Cod is a great choice for health-conscious customers. It’s an incredibly lean choice, with a fat content typically lower than 3% and hardly any carbohydrates whatsoever. In fact, 96% of the calories in a portion of cod come from protein. It’s a lean, protein rich fish. It contains quantities of vitamin B12 and selenium, and a dinner-sized portion will cover a person’s daily intake of Omega-3 fatty acids.

The Norwegian waters really are cold and clear – just the perfect ecosystem for their cod to grow strong, yielding chunky and succulent flesh, just oozing with quality. The firm flesh of Norwegian cod has a delicate white colour, and its characteristic flaky structure and mild taste make it ideal for a wide variety of dishes. Everyone should be using sustainable seafood as a default, not a selling point. The Norwegian credentials are second to none, this coupled with the quality make it the best cod product for worldwide consumption.

More on Chef Mitch Tonks & His Sustainable Cod Recipe Here

Chef Mitch Tonks recipes feature in Signature Chefs South West & Channel Islands 2016. Details here