Seasonal and sustainable seafood that’s affordable for you (and the planet) this Christmas.
Christmas can be a time of indulgence and splashing out on food and some luxuries in life that you might not routinely eat. We know that asking people to shop sustainably often feels like asking them to pay more, especially at a time when they are already stretching their budgets, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are some of our top tips for affordable, delicious and sustainable seafood as part of your Christmas menu this year.
Given their unfortunate reputation as a luxurious, exclusive food, oysters might seem a strange place to start this list. But Scottish oysters, as well as having great environmental and health credentials, are also incredibly versatile. Cooked oysters are super simple and tasty, and also really easy to make. Just shuck oysters, top with breadcrumbs and a mix of toppings like cheese, bacon, spinach, hot sauce or chopped herbs, then pop under a grill until bubbling and crisped for a delicious starter. Oysters can also be coated in breadcrumbs or rolled in seasoned flour and deep fried, for a crispy, juicy, crunchy filling with gem lettuce and tartare sauce for sliders, or served very simply alongside some lemon and mayo. Oysters retail from around 80p to £1.30 each at a supermarket fish counter or fishmongers, or are widely available online direct from farm or via specialist seafood suppliers. Two in a slider makes for a generous portion, at a cost comparable to using good beef burgers, but with a lower carbon footprint.
Mussels are another bivalve mollusc with strong environmental credentials. Farming them essentially involves seeding ropes that are placed underwater, then letting them be until the shells grow to a size suitable for harvesting. No inputs, means no fertilisers, antibiotics, or chemicals need to be pumped into the water where they grow. The only inputs mussels benefit from are in the cooking! The most common way of enjoying these is with a straightforward garlic, white wine and cream sauce, served with fries and/or bread and butter. Variations on this theme are endless, from regional curry sauces, to marinara, to pesto. Our top tip for making a hearty Christmas starter would be to seek out smoked mussels (slightly more expensive, but worth it) and use some of these to replace smoked haddock in a traditional Scottish cullen skink, which is a perfect soup for these darker and colder months.
Creel-caught crabs are a mainstay of Scotland’s lower impact fishing industry. Some crab fisheries are better managed than others, but they are landed all around Scotland, so can be a highly local choice. While they can be seen as a bit of a challenge, getting a whole, live crab can also be very rewarding. There are guides as to how to dispatch them swiftly and humanely available, and this advice should be followed. Cooking them is pretty straightforward, just a question of simmering in salted water for a time dictated by weight (8-10 minutes/kg in water salted at 30g/litre). Once cooked and cooled, preparation involves removing the white meat from claws, and white and brown meat from the carapace. It’s a fiddly job, but one of the best ways to eat crab is as you go – just have bread, butter, lemons, and maybe a mayonnaise or marie rose sauce on hand. The picked white meat can also be used to make crabcakes, as a sandwich filling, in salads, or simply dressed. Don’t throw the shell away once you’re done though, as this can be used to make hearty, warming soups like partan bree, or a stock that can be used to make a bisque with tomatoes and cream. If you don’t fancy tackling a whole live crab, many fishmongers offer pre-cooked crab, whole or claw, as well as pre-picked meat – but you will pay a bit more for these options.
Specifically, line caught mackerel. Mackerel may be heading towards being overfished in parts of the large pelagic fisheries, due to difficulties in nations coming to agreements about shared quota. Previously certified north-east Atlantic fisheries lost their MSC blue badge in 2019 amid concerns about quotas set above scientific advice, and seafood processors and retailers have urged for better management. Unfortunately, this is indicative of the way MSC certification doesn’t always guarantee sustainability – if a stock was healthy but being reduced it was not sustainable! However, line caught mackerel is a great source of sustainable protein. It is an extremely versatile fish, suitable for grilling, frying, curing, and baking. It can be substituted for herring as an oily fish suited for rolling in oats in the traditional Scottish style, shallow fried and served with potatoes. The smoked version is ideal for mackerel pate, which makes an excellent snack on oatcakes.
These are just a few ideas for using some of the lower impact options available, and some of the more affordable. If you want to splash out, there are more expensive but great lower impact options like hand-dived scallops, creel caught langoustine, or lobster. One of the most important things you can do when buying seafood is asking a few simple questions. Asking “How was this caught?” and “Where was this caught?” is the most powerful tool you have as a consumer for pushing change. It gives you the information to make an informed choice, and also lets retailers know that sustainability is a key concern for their customers.
While you’re here… unfortunately, not all our seafood is being sustainably produced. Please support our End Seafood Greenwash campaign, calling on UK retailers and seafood producers to stop buying environmentally-damaging seafood and commit to improving the sustainability and traceability of their supply.