Jellyfish with white turnip salad, anyone?

'It seems that the common skate is now extinct in the Irish Sea and in severe decline in other coastal waters around Britain'.
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Following its announcement two months ago that the cod is an endangered species, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has issued a warning concerning another fishy favourite. It seems that the common skate is now extinct in the Irish Sea and in severe decline in other coastal waters around Britain.

Following its announcement two months ago that the cod is an endangered species, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has issued a warning concerning another fishy favourite. It seems that the common skate is now extinct in the Irish Sea and in severe decline in other coastal waters around Britain.

Contrary to its slightly demeaning appellation, the common skate is a rather extraordinary fish. Apparently, it can live to the grand old age of 30 and grow to a length of more than 6ft. Like many of its human consumers, the skate is in no great rush to reproduce. This is where the problem lies. Because it is so heavily fished, few survive to a reproductive age.

As far as I'm concerned, the skate is safe. If everyone were like me, the bed of the Irish Sea would be chock-a-block with 6ft skate. Despite my penchant for piscine cuisine, this bottom-dweller just doesn't do it for me. I can't say I'm too enraptured by its flavour - the skate is the only fish said to be improved by a few days out of the briny - but, really, it's the method of consumption that puts me off. Though not quite as bad as the New Guinea freshwater fish that Redmond O'Hanlon described as being like a hairbrush clogged with Brylcreem, there remains something off-putting about the palaver of scraping morsels of flesh from a skate wing.

The best thing about it is the accompaniment of beurre noir and capers. Rather like the garlic butter that renders escargots slightly less like India rubbers, the sauce is the classiest element in the ensemble.

Though concerned in a general way about the imminent disappearance of the skate, I can't say it affects me personally. However, I've been plunged into deep gloom by another dire WWF pronouncement on fruits de mer. Because of parasites and pollution, UK stocks of the native oyster have "fallen 100-fold". This really is bad news. The oyster is by some distance the most gloriously enjoyable of our native seafoods.

Its flavour is indescribably wonderful. As the American writer Eleanor Clark mused in her classic volume The Oysters of Locmariaquer: "Music or the colour of the sea are easier to describe... You are eating the sea, that's it, only the sensation of a gulp of sea water has been wafted out of it by some sorcery. You are on the verge of remembering you don't know what, mermaids or the sudden smell of kelp or a poem you read once."

Now, it seems, we'll be on the verge of remembering native oysters. I can't say that I haven't had my fair share of these creamy-brown swirls of maritime sweetness, temptingly curled in their mother-of-pearl boudoirs. But I wish I'd had more, dammit.

With cod in decline, skate severely depleted and the native oyster all but gone, what remains for the fish-fancier? Following a two-month spell on the north Yorkshire coast, I can reveal that at least one sea-creature is still available in profusion. My strolls along the splendid sandy beaches of the region were punctuated by frequent stops to inspect beached jellyfish. Murky brown in colour, they ranged from dinner plate to dustbin lid in size, and were gratifyingly free of tentacles.

More to the point, these creatures merit an entry in Clarissa Dickson Wright's anthology Food. "Why not?" opines the surviving Fat Lady, before giving yummy recipes for pickled jellyfish and jellyfish with white turnip salad. Before you get too excited by such gelatinous treats, you might bear in mind the opinion of journalist Craig Brown, who once sampled jellyfish in the course of a restaurant review. I forgot his exact description, but it went along the lines of "Urghhh!" It was, he said, the worst thing he had ever put in his mouth. Possibly as a result of this experience, Mr Brown has since ceased reviewing restaurants.

* chirst@globalnet.co.uk

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