The great fish rip-off, and other food musings…

In the Guardian there’s an article claiming that the prime fish on our plates – cod, haddock, hake, etc – is quite possibly not what it purports to be, being, in reality, lower-quality fish.

I’m not surprised.

On several occasions, over the past year, I’ve bought “Cod in Batter” from a well-known producer of frozen food (I need to buy more, so I have evidence, before naming the company), and the “cod” was almost certainly coley (beige with hints of pink, rather than the pearly white of cod), or possibly something even more downmarket.

Now I like coley, there’s almost always some in my freezer, but I don’t like it at all when it pretends to be more expensive cod**. That it’s been happening for so long suggests it’s no accident.

**I’ve noticed, at the retail level, the price differential has been seriously eroded of late. Young’s coley fillets, at Sainsbury’s are £7.87 per kg, cod fillets, £8.00 per kg. Where, then, is the incentive to buy coley instead of the endangered cod?

However, it’s a different story at the wholesale level. At Peterhead**, the maximum price for cod is £2.40 per kg, while coley is £1.40 per kg (note that these are the maxima at the time of writing – Sunday afternoon, April 25 – they might change). So, here’s a thought – why isn’t that differential reflected in retail prices? How many guesses do you want?

**Coley, by the way, is listed as Saithe – same thing.

There’s no real reason why the price difference doesn’t filter through to the retail end, as processing, packaging and transport costs are the same for both species – physically, they’re very similar. It’s not, as is the case with monkfish**, that there’s a massive amount of waste with coley – there isn’t.

**Only the tail is eaten – monkfish is really angler fish, and mostly head and mouth.

In addition, right now I have a pack of battered haddock fillets (from a different manufacturer), and one fillet, hiding under its batter coat, also had a slice of something that had the texture of dogfish (sadly, I’ve eaten the evidence, but I have two fillets left – anything untoward in them and there’s going to be trouble).

I’ve also eaten, from yet another company, “lemon sole” that was quite clearly flounder (also frozen). Skinned and filleted they look similar, but the texture is entirely different. As with coley, I have no objection to flounder (dabs are good, too), but not when I’m paying for sole.

I suppose by-catch does get into the processing plants occasionally, it’s almost impossible for it not to, I should think, but the cod-coley thing has happened too often to be accidental.

Next time I go shopping, I’ll buy more cod-coley and, if they turn out to be coley, take photographs, re-freeze the evidence and find out who I send it to (Trading Standards would be my guess).

Watch this space…

On a different tack, in Sainsbury’s, Thursday morning, they had woody, British-grown asparagus (in bloody April?), so big you got 3 to a bundle – more like green firewood than food and, right next to it, baby  asparagus, which would once have been called sprue, the thinnings from the asparagus beds – a spring treat while waiting for the main crop.

Now sprue is grown commercially, called fine asparagus, and flown in from sodding Peru. And this, plus assorted flowers, mange tout and French beans all, suspiciously, exactly the same length, is the sort of food-stuff which is flown in at vast expense from the Americas, Africa, and even more far-flung places. The unnecessary crap people were bitching about being unable to buy while the planes were grounded.

The thing is though, if jets never flew again, nobody would starve for the lack of this pointless “food”. OK, the growers might suffer, but let’s not kid ourselves that they’re well-paid for this stuff – it retails at the equivalent of £9.45 per kg, and if the growers get a couple of quid out of that I’ll be surprised. They might do at least as well growing food crops for local distribution… I mean, really, is there ever any justification in flying bloody baby asparagus half-way round the world?


2 thoughts on “The great fish rip-off, and other food musings…

    • The River Cobbler, also called Basa, is a freshwater catfish (Pangasius sp.) from the Mekong River in Vietnam. It has to be the most boring fish in the world. I really can’t think that anyone would willingly buy it more than once.


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