Today's lesson, children, is how to enjoy fish

Why the sudden interest? Because on my last night in Goa we had barbecued red snapper on the beach
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Too bad Jamie Oliver didn't ask my advice before some smooth-talking PR man persuaded him to endorse the fish farm in Loch Hourn which has just been condemned as dangerously polluted. I could have told him a few things about fish farms. There used to be one in Loch Linnhe not far from our house. When we took the boat out on fishing expeditions to catch mackerel down by the lighthouse we had to pass the local salmon farm, and long before we saw the four orange buoys which marked its sub-aquatic boundaries, we could smell it.

Too bad Jamie Oliver didn't ask my advice before some smooth-talking PR man persuaded him to endorse the fish farm in Loch Hourn which has just been condemned as dangerously polluted. I could have told him a few things about fish farms. There used to be one in Loch Linnhe not far from our house. When we took the boat out on fishing expeditions to catch mackerel down by the lighthouse we had to pass the local salmon farm, and long before we saw the four orange buoys which marked its sub-aquatic boundaries, we could smell it.

Knowing his fondness for all things pukka, I doubt young Jamie would have agreed to endorse a single fishcake from Loch Hourn if his sensitive nose had been downwind of that obscene gut-wrenching stench. I don't remember now if it was officially closed down or destroyed by one of the force-10 gales that occasionally hits the West Highland coast. Either way it's no longer there and neither, thank heavens, are the sea lice, the maggots, the gill droop, scale rot, ventricle dysfunction and all the other horrors which go with trying to breed fish artificially.

Poor Jamie. He doesn't appear to be having much luck at the moment. His much publicised campaign to persuade kids to eat healthier foods by teaching dinner ladies how to cook hasn't exactly been a runaway success. Kids don't want salads and fresh fruit for school dinner. They want bacon sandwiches, roast chicken and sausage, mash and brown sauce cooked in exactly the same way that Jamie recommends in his latest recipe book.

My schoolboy son gave it to me for Christmas last year. I don't mean to look a gift horse in the mouth but does buttering two slices of white toast and sandwiching them together with bits of grilled bacon really require a page of text and another full page colour photograph to explain? Oh hang on, I forgot. Jamie says he likes to whack in a bit of mustard and tomato ketchup along with the bacon. Wow, I never thought of that.

If he's up for a bit of penance maybe JO should start a campaign to persuade kids to eat real fish like mackerel instead of that tasteless, woolly, artificially dyed farmed salmon which contains about as much nutrition as an old sock. Mackerel is hugely nutritious and hugely delicious if the ones we catch and barbecue in Scotland are anything to go by. And there's another thing - there are millions of them. They don't seem to have been fished into extinction like cod and haddock. One of our Scottish neighbours, a retired diver, thinks nothing of catching 60 mackerel in an afternoon, and, useless as we townies are with hooks and lines, we usually come home with half a dozen.

When I asked the assistant behind the fish counter at the supermarket for a mackerel the other day, he looked at me as if I'd asked for a basking shark. "There's no call for it, madam," he said. "Too oily and too many bones." Decades on I can still remember the three invaluable pieces of advice that my surrogate godfather/mentor gave me when I left university and prepared to go out into the big wide world. Never wear gloss lipstick; never accept a lift from a stranger unless he's very, very rich; and never eat fish in public. I've always been hopelessly inept at dealing with fish bones elegantly. Give me a kipper - and I'm talking about a proper kipper, not that anaemic, filleted boil-in-the-bag rubbish - and my plate becomes a battlefield. Most people are the same. As for kids, none of them has ever eaten a fish with bones in it.

That's where Jamie comes in. What about a brand new television series aimed at teaching children all about the delights of fish - catching, cooking, filleting and eventually becoming addicted to them. Who knows, despite John Betjeman, fish knives and forks might even come back into fashion and we really would be able without irony to "send for the fish knives, Norman".

So why this sudden interest in fish, you are wondering. Because on my last night in Goa we had fresh barbecued red snapper on the beach and three days later my mouth still waters at the memory.

We saw the fishing boat that went out in the morning come back at dusk and the fisherman who caught it bring it into the restaurant. And half an hour later there it was on my plate, charred crispy skin, succulent flesh, a bowl of spicy Goanese dipping sauce and well, yes, a ton of bones. To hell with fish knives. When it's that good all you need to eat fish is fingers.

Comments