A Guide to Cornish Seafood
If you talk to local fisherman, they’ll say the Cornish waters offer up the best seafood in all of the United Kingdom. From the Camel estuary to the docklands of Falmouth, and into the waters of the Atlantic, Cornwall offers some of the best in freshly caught seafood.
For this guide, we will look at shellfish and the freshest catches of the day. With our holiday cottages in St Ives, you can be minutes from some of the best restaurants serving up innovative and fresh seafood dishes.
One popular fish finding its way on to plates in Cornwall is plaice. This fish, which can grow from 25-40 cm, has unfortunately suffered from intense over-fishing. Stocks have been depleted. This right-sided flatfish is brown with prominent red/orange spots with a white underside. A line of bony knobs runs along the head from the lateral line to the eyes. These fish are bottom dwellers and have been known to travel into fresh water sources. Good to eat, they are found in the waters along beaches and river estuaries.
Another popular catch off Cornwall is the lemon sole. Smaller than the plaice, the sole looks similar. It has a small head and mouth and is commonly brown with darker brown markings. Delicious and light, the name is a misconception because the fish is neither from the sole family of fish, nor does it have a citrus taste. It is often best when cooked simply – either grilled or fried. They are also bottom dwellers, and also like sand and gravel. They are more commonly found in deeper waters and are unlikely to travel up rivers.
The dab is a common Cornish fish. Also bottom dwellers that can travel into fresh water rivers, they are very similar to plaice. They have a pale, brown colour, and have a circular curve above the pectoral fin. Many people enjoy dab, but they are less popular than plaice or lemon sole.
Although there is always room for debate, many locals argue that Cornish shellfish are among the planet’s best. With its unique combination of water, sand and rocks, Cornwall is home to brown crab, lobster and spider crabs. It is also well-known for bivalves like mussels and oysters.
Most fisherman harvest local shellfish with small boats in small operations. Because they play an important role in Cornish life, many local fisherman have agreed to responsibly harvest shellfish in order to leave enough for future generations. Cornish shellfish is exported to European countries such as France and Spain, where locals and visitors appreciate its special quality and taste.
Found in abundance, a popular shellfish is the mussel. Often called the “poor man's shellfish”, mussels are inexpensive and found along coastline rocks and stones. The vast majority are farmed today. Mussels are one of the most environmentally-sound types available.
Oysters are also a very popular choice. They were once plentiful in the 1800s and used in all sorts of pies, stews and soups. Supplies have dwindled due to over fishing and disease, but in recent years, thanks to conservation efforts and the introduction of new species, oysters are making a bit of a comeback – especially in Padstow near the Camel Estuary.
All hail the cod
Possibly the reigning champion, king and standard for all British seafood is cod. With sizes surpassing a metre, this fish has three rounded dorsal fins and two rear fins. They possess an upper jaw that extends over the lower. The back of this fish is a greenish brown with a mottling appearance towards its sides and white belly.
Cod live just about everywhere and are caught off the Cornish coast. Cod is a key member of a whole family of fish including haddock, coley, whiting, ling and hake. The British love affair with cod has meant stocks have suffered greatly from over-fishing. Local stocks are at risk, but some stocks of Atlantic cod from Iceland, the North East Arctic and Eastern Baltic are considered sustainable. Pacific cod caught in Alaskan waters are also considered sustainable.
In Cornwall, cod can still be found off Boscastle, the headlands in the Padstow area, near Perranporth and around the Penzance area.
Another large fish found in Cornish waters is pollock. Able to reach a metre in length, it has a large concave tail. The lower jaw projects beyond the upper jaw. They have white bellies and the colours vary from dark olive green to a golden sheen with silver flanks.
Smaller pollock can be found off jetties, piers, harbour walls and rocks. Larger ones are found in deeper waters around rocks, reefs and shipwrecks as they like cover. They can be found around Cornwall in places including Cape Cornwall, Padstow area headlands, Port Isaac, Boscastle and Tintagel.
Yet another famous fish is mackerel. This torpedo-shaped fish can grow up to 40 cm in length. Popular for smoking, their natural taste is often overlooked. They live just about anywhere and are probably one of the most prolific fish in Cornish waters. Mackerel is a delicious nutritional fish, with intense meat packed with omega-3 fatty acids.
There are number of good places to catch mackerel in Cornwall, but some suggestions are Sennen, the rocks off Porthtowan, Helford, Mevagissey, St Ives, Kennack Sands, Coverack, Porthleven and Charlestown.
For more details on Cornish fish, Down the Cove offers some great tips and pictures of local fish species.