Cradock - There is a village called Bream in the Forest of Dean in the county of Gloucestershire in England where there are carpenters in need of jobs.
This is worth knowing if you wish to Google a species of fish called a carpenter, which is sometimes called sea bream.
Instead of studious commentary by the kind of people who spend their spare time sending the fruit of their research to lexicographic engines such as Wikipedia, you are met with endless advertisements for carpenters in Bream fishing for jobs, or people in Bream looking for carpenters. But not for fish.
If Doctor Foster were to go to Gloucester in a shower of rain today and were to step into a puddle right up to his middle, he would not need to throw his toys out of the cot and vow never to return, as there would be any number of carpenters able to build him a bridge or a ladder to bring him back to dry land. He would also not find much by way of sea bream, or silverfish, as it is often called in South Africa.
Further Googling brings the information that silver bream are categorised as “near threatened”, so before you hive off and order some, spare a thought for the future of the species. I have to admit that when in Port Alfred last week I walked into a fish shop and the only fish on display were silver bream and one or two bronze bream, as the shop owner called its slightly reddish cousin. I bought one innocently and without thinking to check its status. Note to self: always Google a fish before buying it.
The recipe, here, then, can be used for any number of fish which when filleted, come out intact and firm (unlike hake, for instance, which disintegrates easily) and which can be dusted in seasoned flour and pan-fried until just done.
But this does highlight a dilemma: the buying of fish from speciality fish shops as well as from the big retailers which have fresh fish counters needs attention. As consumers, we should expect the store owners to put in the work and – as Pick n Pay to its credit is now doing – either only offer for sale species that are not threatened (or near threatened), or advise us at the point of sale that the fish is on the red or orange list, that is, either threatened or a species of concern.
The other side of that coin, though, is the livelihood of the fishers and of those who own such shops.
Any fisher can only offer whatever the day’s catch is, and the advent of the green, orange and red lists (see wwfsassi.co.za) has meant that they can no longer just sell on whatever is in the net.
Some clearly do, and I must admit to some sympathy for them.
That Port Alfred fish shop – on the day I popped in – seems to highlight this dilemma. Without those fish, what were they to sell?
The iucnredlist.org website tells us that the argyrozona argyrozona is “a commercially important species endemic to South Africa” and that it “continues to be the most important sparid in terms of catch volume for the commercial linefishery; it is also a significant component of the demersal trawl bycatch. Stock assessments based on data from 1986 to 2001 indicate that the stock was overfished; however, more recent stock assessments suggest some recovery since the reduction in commercial effort in 2003.
“This species is assessed as Near Threatened based on its dependency on current conservation and management measures. Argyrozona argyrozona may qualify for a threatened category if ongoing conservation actions abate or cease.”
But when you’re shopping in a hurry, who has the time to spend half an hour Googling information on the fish in front of you which has already been caught and is offered for sale?
So, the fish in the picture and on our plates was a silver bream the fishmonger expertly filleted for me. For me, fresh fish has always been a tricky thing. I find it too easy to mess it up as I am quite heavy of hand. My colleagues raise their eyes when they hear me on the keyboard.
But with this fish it came off perfectly, which itself attests to the firmness of the species.
Silver bream fillets with fennel
Fish head and other trimmings for stock
1 large onion, roughly chopped
1 bouquet garni
1 glass medium white wine such as rosé
Dried or fresh dill or fennel, finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
2 fish fillets, fresh, not defrosted
Butter for frying
Strands of fresh fennel
Put the fish trimmings, head and all, in a pot with the onion and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and allow it to reduce on the stove until there is about a quarter of liquid left. Strain into a saucepan, discarding the solid elements. Return to the stove, add the bouquet garni, and reduce further. Add the wine and reduce once more. Remove garni.
Mix flour with the chopped fennel and the salt and pepper. Make sure the fillets are dry and dust them in this, all over. Fry in foaming butter. Don’t move them until the fish is cooked halfway through, then carefully turn with a spatula or fish slice and cook on the other side until just done, seasoning the cooked side. Don’t overcook fish unless you like it dry and nasty.
Remove to warm plates and quickly add the fish sauce to the pan, stirring, and pour over the fish. Garnish with a sprig of fennel or dill.