Seafood festival focuses on 'ugly but tasty fish - this is what's on the menu

The Dorset Seafood Festival takes place later this year and new to the event this year is Outcasts - a feature on the more unusual creatures of the deep.

By Chris Page
Tuesday, 28th June 2022, 8:37 am
Updated Tuesday, 28th June 2022, 8:39 am
Monkfish: Is the perfect example of why you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover! Monkfish is a particularly strange looking fish but is a fine-dining favourite
Monkfish: Is the perfect example of why you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover! Monkfish is a particularly strange looking fish but is a fine-dining favourite

The focus will be on monkfish, gurnard and spider crab when at the festival is held at Weymouth Peninsula on Saturday September 10 and Sunday September 11.

The festival works closely with the Blue Marine Foundation (Blue Marine) to ensure there is a focus on restoring the ocean to health and to support local, low impact fisheries.

Outcasts this year might not be the most pretty of fish, but they’re delicious and hugely underrated when it comes to what we see on menus across the country. SEAFEAST is asking visitors to give these undesirables another chance and be won over by the flavour.

Monkfish: Is the perfect example of why you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover! Monkfish is a particularly strange looking fish but is a fine-dining favourite. It has smooth, dark brown or olive green skin.

It can change the colour of its body to blend with the colours of the environment. Monkfish have a huge head and a gradually tapering tail. Its wide mouth is filled with a large number of curved, backward oriented teeth.

With firm, meaty, white flesh that comes from the tail section of the fish. It’s low in fat, with a luxurious, sweet flavour that’s quite similar to langoustine or lobster. Monkfish are a type of angler fish, with a growth like a fishing lure that protrudes from their heads and dangles above their enormous mouths.

The decoy tempts prey towards needle-like teeth, distracting them just long enough for the monkfish to pounce. UK Sea Fisheries Statistics from 2020 show that total UK landings of monkfish have been around 20,000 tonnes with a value of £55-60 million per annum over the past 5 years. Monkfish is usually available all year round and effective management has led to very healthy stocks in south western waters.

Gurnard: Gurnard are slightly prehistoric looking and are also known as ‘sea robins’ which is due to their large pectoral fins. Gurnard has a large armoured head with a steep forehead and big eyes. A key characteristic is their individual spiny fin rays on each side of the body, which act as 'fingers' in searching for food on the seafloor. For years they were thrown back at sea or used as bait, but the popularity of this delicious fish is on the rise. Gurnard are considered a sustainable choice as long as not caught in their breeding season - May - July.

Spider crab: Around 85 percent of spider crab caught in the UK is exported to Spain where it is more popular. Spider crabs are large, spiky crustaceans that are common around Dorset’s coast.

Spider crabs have long spindly legs like a spider and a distinctive spiny shell. Their orange oval shells are often covered in algae, giving them a green hairy look! They grow up to 80cm in claw span. Caught by inshore fishermen using pots or nets which have a low impact on the seabed, these are a good sustainable choice and are in season from April to June.

Stuart Cooper, festival director said: “The festival is a big promoter of sustainable seafood, and for 2022 we wanted to find a way to encourage people to explore alternative species they might not have considered before.

"Some might be a little hard on the eyes, but we have such a variety of incredible seafood just off our shores, and visitors to SEAFEAST will have the opportunity to learn more about underutilised species. We will have top chefs on stage, demonstrating how these ‘outcasts’ can be turned into a delicious meal, and we are encouraging our amazing stallholders to join in too – providing the chance for festival-goers to try something different.”

The UK is a net importer of fish, with imports exceeding exports. The UK’s trade gap in 2019 for sea fish is 270 thousand tonnes. In 2019, the UK imported 721 thousand tonnes of sea fish, with a value of £3,457 million. It exported 452 thousand tonnes with a value of £2,004 million. (UK Sea Fisheries Statistics 2019).

Sam Fanshawe, of Blue Marine Foundation said “Just five fish make up over 60% of all seafood eaten in the UK – cod, haddock, tuna, salmon and prawns – and most of this is imported, whilst dozens of species caught just off our shores are shipped abroad – all adding to our food miles and carbon footprint.

"Buying sustainably caught seafood from UK fishermen supports our local economies, protects the environment and it tastes great whatever it might look like. We need to cast our taste net wider and there are lots of great resources to help people buy and cook local, seasonal fish caught in UK waters. One of the best is www.discoverseafood.uk and SEAFEAST is the perfect place to try something a bit different and support our local fishing and seafood businesses.’’

The much-loved School of Fish, children’s cookery workshop will be returning - due to popular demand.

Tickets are limited, booking in advance is advisable.

Saturday - adult £10

Sunday - adult £7

Children UNDER 16 are free of charge; secure your place at this summer’s seafood extravaganza at www.dorsetseafood.co.uk/book/