Nigel Slater: All at sea

'Eat more fish!' cry the health police. Well, I would if only I could remember which fish it is that doesn't upset the environmentalists. Is it haddock or hake that is in danger, and if it is hake then is it European hake or Cape hake? And is it wild salmon, farmed salmon, Atlantic salmon or organic salmon that will get me into trouble? Oh sod it, I'll have a lamb chop instead.

In terms of dinner, I am not particularly worried about the fate of the Patagonian toothfish or the roundnose grenadier, but I do worry whether it is brill or bream that is in short supply. Both of them turn up in my kitchen, often roasted with lemons and bay, or baked with white wine and tomato. My concern is so strong that it has got me taking a print-out of the Marine Conservation Society's website (www.fishonline.org) to the shops. But then good intentions are all very well until you spot a perfect, snow-white hunk of forbidden halibut winking at you on the ice.

Among the fish we should eat more are: porgy, pollack, line-caught seabream, cape hake, Dover sole, flounder, gurnard, herring, lemon sole, cockles, mackerel, mussels, oysters, red mullet, farmed organic salmon, spider crab, whiting and witch. But even this list has its confusions: only mackerel that is line caught is OK, and cockles must be sustainably harvested. To add to the confusion, both cod and halibut are fine as long as they are line caught in the Pacific. And when did you last see witch at the fishmongers? To be honest, I wouldn't know a megrim from a merkin.

The real problem is not so much knowing which fish we can eat, it is more a question of finding them. It also has to be said that in most cases eco-friendly fish are somewhat second rate in terms of flavour, as anyone who has eaten the much-publicised hoki has probably discovered

I am all for trying less-known fish and in time I may get to know a forkbeard from a flounder, but first I have to see them on the fishmonger's slab.

Baked red mullet with saffron and mint

Beautiful colours here, with the rose-pink fish and green speckled cooking juices. A good, light dish for a spring day. Serves 2.

4 medium-sized red mullet
4 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp white wine or white vermouth
a handful of mint leaves
a good pinch of saffron stamens
small waxy potatoes such as Ratte, to serve

Put a pan of water on to boil for the potatoes. Set the oven at 220C/gas mark 7. Rinse the fish, pat dry, then lay them in an oven-proof dish. Pour the olive oil into a small bowl, add the white wine and a little salt and ground black pepper. Roughly shred the mint leaves and stir into the wine with the saffron stamens. Pour the marinade over the fish and leave it for anything up to an hour.

Salt the water for the potatoes and put them on to boil. Put the fish in the oven to bake, basting it once during cooking with the juices that surround it. It will take 12-14 minutes, but check it after 10. The timing will depend on the size of your fish.

Serve the fish on warm plates or shallow bowls, spooning over the mint and saffron juices as you go.

Lemon roast John Dory

Small, unusual fish respond well to simple treatment such as this, where the fish are roasted quickly with just lemon and bay. A spinach salad would be good here, or perhaps mounds of the vegetable, steamed and turned over in the lemony, olive-oily juices.

2 small John Dory per person
olive oil
1/2 a lemon per person
bay leaves

Set the oven at 220C/gas mark 7. Rinse and dry the fish, then put them in a roasting tin. Season each fish on both sides with salt and black pepper. Drizzle generously with olive oil; you should be able to see a distinct puddle in the bottom of the dish. Cut the lemons into fat segments, six or so to each fruit. Tuck these, and rinsed bay leaves, between the fish.

Roast for 10 minutes or so, till the flesh comes easily away from the bone. Transfer to warm plates then spoon over the lemon-scented cooking juices.

Baked brill with oregano and bay

Any whole white fish would be fine here. Take a look at your fishmonger's slab - there may be lemon sole or whiting. For more than one fish you will need a large roasting tin or baking tray. Serves 2.

a medium-sized bream, brill or any of the fish above
olive oil
6 bay leaves
4 large sprigs of dried oregano or several fat pinches of the ready-crumbled sort
a lemon

Set the oven at 240C/gas mark 8. Rinse and dry the fish - I pat it with kitchen roll - then lay it flat in a baking dish. Shake a little olive oil over the fish, then scatter with the herbs, squeeze over the lemon juice, season with a grinding of sea salt and black pepper, then put into the oven.

The fish is ready when the skin peels away easily and the flesh is opaque - after about 10-12 minutes. If the flesh doesn't part easily from the bone, bake it for another few minutes. The time it takes depends on the type and weight of your fish, but you should start testing, gently, after 10 minutes.

Lift the fish on to a warm serving plate and spoon any juices over the fish. Serve with the sauce below.

A punchy sauce for a baked fish

Green sauces with lively flavours are best suited to fish that has been robustly roasted with lemon, garlic and the tougher herbs.

a large bunch of flat-leaf parsley
6 bushy sprigs of basil
6 anchovy fillets, salted or packed in oil
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp capers
extra-virgin olive oil
lemon juice

Tear the parsley and basil leaves from their stems and stuff them into a food processor. Rinse the salt or oil from the anchovies and toss them in with the herbs, mustard and capers, and blitz till all is a thick mush. Pour in the oil in a long, steady drizzle and watch the mixture start to thicken (a matter of seconds). The sauce should be a thick slush. Season with lemon juice and serve, cold, with the hot fish.

nigel.slater@observer.co.uk

Thanks to guardian.co.uk who have provided this article. View the original here.