Monday, 15 February 2021

The whole fish and nothing but the fish - Kokotxas comes to Newlyn!

Forgotten Fish is an exciting and innovative fishmongering venture set to bring a whole new world of fish preparation and cookery to Cornwall with a strong Celtic cousin's link. Son of the fish merchant dynasty, Trelawney Fish and a self-taught chef, Richard Adams is looking to provide the county's outstanding fish chefs and more adventurous fish loving home cooks with an entirely new range of cuts based on the concept of using 'the whole fish'!

Through the Gaps recently discovered the concept in the form of a new cook book from that exciting Aussie chef, Josh Niland - The Whole Fish - especially as many of the recipes can make use of the huge variety of fish regularly available on Newlyn fish market...

just one example being a recipe for sardines and anchovies - fish often caught together by the Cornish sardine fleet from July through to January and beyond.


Up first for dissection are what is known as, 'Kokotaxas'.

These compact triangles of flesh show the hidden potential in forgotten cuts. Found on the underside of a hake, the throat essentially, in the Basque region of Spain they are revered for their uniquely gelatinous texture and delicate flavour. 

I’ve searched for figures on the value of this tiny bite to the Spanish fishing fleet, who cut them at sea, but come up blank. What I do know is that a selling price of €60/k is standard, and based on an annual catch three times the UK, they probably represent not insubstantial worth to Spanish fishermen. Spain’s premiere supplier of kokotxas, Paco Ferreres - ‘El Rey de Kokotxas’, sells over 200k of them every week! This remains an untapped resource in Cornwall however, where kokotxas are unknown to fishermen, fishmongers, and processors.

It takes around 100k of whole fish to produce 1k of kokotxas, which gives some idea of how labour intensive the process is. But there is value in that time. Over 12 000 tonnes of MSC certified hake was landed into Newlyn in 2019, around half of which were prime size fish for extracting kokotxas, this could represent around 60 tonnes of high value fish going to waste annually - which seems environmentally, economically, and gastronomically illogical. 

Here in the UK it takes someone like @tomos_pp @bratrestaurant to give them a deserved place on the menu. Richard first sent a box from Cornwall to London to feature on the menu of a collaboration between Brat and @elkano_jatetxea , the Basque temple of seafood where he first tried kokotxas. For him it still feels unreal to be supplying Brat and he is proud to see these Cornish delicacies as a constant fixture at one of the best restaurants in the country. Tomos’ approach of serving unrivalled produce in a way that genuinely puts the ingredient first, the perfect celebration of the kokotxa! His support for Forgotten Fish has been instrumental in enabling Richard to pursue other goals for the business.

Richard goes on to explain the thinking behind this exciting new venture for Newlyn; Forgotten Fish aims to reduce waste within the fishing industry by reconsidering the value of lesser used species and cuts, and connecting chefs and restaurateurs in support of creating more sustainable practices within the sector directly to the supply chain at ports and processors. An estimated 57% of the UK’s fish and shellfish resource - that is the total of what we catch or farm - is classed as waste and does not reach our tables. Of this, 17% is constituted by discards, 5% by processing at sea, and a huge 35% by onshore processing. If we were to reclaim just 1% of the 35% of waste created at the point of onshore processing across the country, it would equate to nearly 3000 tonnes of edible fish per year. 

Instead of just coveting the fillet, Forgotten Fish promotes more specialist cuts like cheeks, collars, throats and bellies to the food community, finding markets with chefs who are keen not just to support sustainable projects in their restaurants, but also to experiment with underused parts of the fish - often delicacies in other countries - giving their menus an edge over others just serving conventional cuts. In addition to this there are many species traditionally considered to be of little value, usually destined for the crab pot as bait, that chefs are willing now more than ever to put on their menus, celebrating the diversity of our waters and reducing strain on more popular and overfished stocks. 

By promoting these species directly to the new wave of young and experimental chefs who want to cook with them, we can find markets for fish that were otherwise considered bycatch, reducing waste and increasing revenue to fishermen. This is a gift of food from an existing resource, increasing productivity and profitability in the supply chain without putting any additional strain on fisheries. Put simply, making the most of what we already have. In the context of today’s environmental situation, not just with regards to fish stocks and sea health, but more broadly concerns over food deficits and shortages, we are simply not in a position to be wasting food like we do. 

An increasing concern across all sectors, it will not be long before the focus is turned to the fishing industry to question what is being done to protect our natural resources for the future. The concept has already proved hugely popular in the food community, attracting attention from some of London’s most celebrated chefs such as Tomos Parry of Brat, Isaac McHale of Clove Club, and Santiago Lasta and Douglas McMaster of soon to be opened Kol and Silo respectively. In addition to the more high profile names, and without active promotion, word has spread and requests poured in from many other chefs keen to support Forgotten Fish. The only thing restricting sales and growth until now has been the availability of ‘waste’, and resources and time to upscale the project. 

The opportunity here lies in the fact that there is no shortage of waste, just a lack of systems in place to capitalise on it. By working closely with wholesalers, processors, fishermen and chefs, and reconsidering the conventions of processing and selling fish, the project could save a large amount of our catch from becoming waste, creating revenue and jobs in the process. 

The statistics show what could be done on a wider scale if success was proven at a local level, and the opportunity for Newlyn to be a leader in implementing such change could be a huge boon to the status of the port. Forgotten Fish so far has reclaimed and sold around 700k of fish, all of which would have been waste, in just 7 months of operation, with very little resources, one employee working part time, and the ‘waste’ from just one medium sized processor. With the aim of raising this figure to one tonne within the first year, a powerful statement could be made regarding the possibility further research and resources could offer, offering real hope for change and setting an example for the industry to follow.

This is blue sky thinking, and there would no doubt be barriers to making it reality, but given the potential here for flavour, and revenue, perhaps kokotxas should become a staple of the Cornish hake fishery?