Gone fishing… for a salmon substitute

Salmon is set to soar in price, and might soon be off the menu. So what should we eat instead?

By Simon Round, June 17, 2009
Who needs salmon when you can have this delicious sustainable mackerel in your sushi set?

Who needs salmon when you can have this delicious sustainable mackerel in your sushi set?

A slump in salmon production and a surge in demand from around the world is threatening to take British Jewry’s most ubiquitous fish off our menus — or at least to make it a more expensive treat.

So what are the alternatives? The truth is that there is no other single fish with the versatility of the salmon — there are few other fish which can be smoked cold or hot, served raw, cured, poached or pan fried and which have the health benefits of omega 3.

When searching out alternatives, one also has to bear in mind that it is not only salmon which is threatened by over-fishing and high demand —fish stocks are in crisis while the world’s appetite for fish continues to grow.

For example, the bluefin and yellowfin tuna are oily fish with firm flesh, can be served in sushi, grilled, fried or slow-cooked. But this type of tuna, particularly the bluefin, has been pursued to near extinction by the huge Japanese and European fishing fleets.

There are, however, viable and affordable substitutes should salmon further rocket in price. The most obvious is trout — the flesh is pink and, in the case of the sea trout, the texture and taste are similar to that of salmon — and it can be smoked and poached in the manner of its cousin. Of course, should salmon become scarce and expensive, sea trout, being so similar, will almost certainly rise in price, so perhaps this is not the answer.

There is a fish which may be able to take advantage of the salmon vacuum to reclaim its rightful place on the Jewish plate. Herring is still relatively abundant in the Atlantic, although North Sea stocks are threatened. It is affordable and it shares the health benefits of salmon. On the downside, this fish still has something of an image problem — few would be brave enough to offer its as a main course at a wedding. However, it can be pickled , smoked, marinated and fried, and is as haimishe as a fish can be.

Likewise, mackerel is as cheap as chips, and a natural substitute for salmon. Fresh mackerel — the fresher the better — can be baked, grilled or fried. Smoked mackerel can be tarted up into a salad, or indeed a tarte and, with the addition of cream cheese, lemon juice and a food processor, can be made into a fantastic pâté in seconds.

However, salmon’s absence is likely to be most keenly felt at the simchah table. When Jewish couples decide on fish for their wedding menu, they tend to look at all the available options, then go for salmon.

Perhaps the best bet in future could be sea bass. Like salmon, it is considered a “posh” fish and also, like salmon, it is widely farmed and has become affordable. It can be baked, pan fried, grilled or poached. Sea bream does not quite have the exalted reputation of the bass but does have a rich flavour and a good firm texture — both of these fish would pass muster at an upmarket do.

Then there is the problem of sushi. In the past 15 years, sushi has taken the Jewish world by storm. The presence of a sushi chef at a wedding or barmitzvah in the ’80s would have been about as likely as that of a pork chop, but now is fairly common. However, because shellfish cannot be used in kosher sushi, it does rely rather heavily on both salmon and tuna. There are alternatives, though. Marinated mackerel is on every sushi menu and sea bass is also very common. Herring has not yet been spotted on rice … but it can only be a matter of time.

Last updated: 1:15pm, June 19 2009