On my way to Port Eliot festival in Cornwall last weekend, I had one thing on my mind. Seafood. The annual literary festival, which takes place on the historic site of Port Eliot in St Germans, is best known as a celebration of words but food is becoming an increasingly popular part of the event.

Raymond Blanc’s fresh grilled mackerel with soy and lime dressing

“You won’t find any greasy burger vans here,” explained chef and local resident Chris Sherville who was running the festival’s hugely popular seafood café. “Just use your nose for navigation and you’ll find your way around.”

Fresh mussels

Nathan Outlaw’s fresh mussels at this year’s Port Eliot Festival

Sure enough I soon found my way to Port Eliot’s Victorian walled garden where hordes of hungry punters were queuing up to sample the seafood café’s lobster with saffron aioli and oysters from Bigbury Bay. It was all delicious, but at around £10 a throw, it’s not exactly my idea of budget seafood. 

If like Chris you’re lucky enough to live a short distance from the coast, it’s easy to lay your hands on fresh and affordable fish all year round. You could develop a good relationship with a fisherman or fishmonger, or you can always catch your own. But if you’re landlocked, you might have to cast your net a bit wider, explains Chris.
“As long as you’re willing to try something new, there are many alternatives out there that are tasty and affordable. Take for instance dab, gurnard, clams and squid – all widely available in supermarkets,” says Chris, who also gives fish cookery demonstrations at the festival. “Gurnard may look peculiar, but if you season [a fillet] well then panfry it in olive oil, add a squeeze of lemon, a few capers, some lemon zest and fresh parsley, it’s absolutely delicious.” 
Shellfish such as clams and mussels are also a good budget option as they are widely available and offer good value for money. Chris likes to cook clams with pasta, making a sauce out of cream, chorizo and garlic, topped off with some sherry or brandy. “It’s an inexpensive meal that feeds a lot of people,” he says. He also recommends squid for experimenting with strong flavours. “I use squid all the time as it takes on all the wonderful flavours from South East Asia to Mexican spices.”
Eating fish regularly also has clear health benefits. The Department of Health recommends eating two portions of fish a week, including one portion of oily fish which is high in Omega-3 fatty acids and can help prevent heart disease. Oily fish such as mackerel, salmon and sardines are also a good source of vitamins A and D.

A good way of incorporating mackerel into your diet is to buy it smoked or to cure it yourself, says Michélin-award winning chef, Nathan Outlaw. He was demonstrating simple mackerel and oyster recipes at the festival’s bowling green. “I wouldn’t bother with mackerel if it’s more than two days old, but curing is a great way to make it last longer.” Curing and smoking also brings out the superb flavour of the fish such as this mackerel and horseradish recipe with oyster sauce

If you’re looking to save money without compromising on quality you could always do as Nathan does and adopt a less-is-more approach. ‘You risk ending up with something that’s not very nice if you try and save money when it comes to quality fish,” he says. “I would rather have fish one day of the week and meat another and then eat vegetables or risottos the rest of the week – so I can afford good quality fish.”
You can also make your seafood go further by making curries, soups and stews, explains Nathan. “Take a fish like grey mullet. It’s a nice chunky fish, very similar to sea bass so it can handle big flavours. So if you’re into curries or pastas with strong sauces it’s ideal.” As a sustainable and affordable alternative to cod, you could also opt for a fish such as pollack which works well in a stew such as this Cornish salt pollack, squid and mussel stew recipe.  

If you live away from the coast and can afford to pay a little more, you could consider buying from an online fish merchant. “It’s great because you can see what you’re buying in advance and you can guarantee it has come fresh from the market that morning and will be with you the next day,” says Nathan.  You have to factor in a delivery costs but if you’re able to split an order between friends, it can become more cost effective. Some suppliers also offer online seasonality charts so that you can see when fish stocks are in abundance and therefore more affordable.


So with a bit of planning and a willingness to eat a variety of fish and shellfish, there are ways of making seafood work on a budget. Here are some suggestions of how to make your seafood go further…

Spaghetti with clams, garlic and parsley

How do you make your seafood go further? Would you buy from an online fish merchant? Is the supermarket failing you when it comes to seafood?


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