It's not just fruit and vegetables that are seasonal, but fish and seafood too. While the scallop and mussel seasons are more or less widely known, how about sea bass, squid or even mackerel season?
Christopher Coutanceau, the three-Michelin-starred chef from his eponymous restaurant in La Rochelle, on the west coast of France, and a fervent defender of sustainable fishing, explains why it's important to respect fish seasonality.
Why Respect Fish Seasonality?
Coutanceau uses sea bass as an example of the importance of respecting the seasonality of fish. "It's a fish that everyone knows and yet no one knows when to eat it. However, it's a fish which gorges itself in November when it has a massive growth spurt, and to make reserves ready for January when it will go to the spawning grounds, where it will reproduce from January to April. During this period, it no longer feeds, spends a lot of energy on reproducing and will therefore lose weight and become fibrous," warns the chef.
"It's easy to understand that during this period, the fish will have lost its fatness and therefore its tenderness. A fish without fat is like a tomato that has no sugar." The same goes for the clam, which is "completely empty at the start of the year. There's only skin and juice and for a simple reason: in winter, the water is cold, there's less plankton to feed the clams. When the good weather arrives, food returns to the oceans, the sun heats the sand and they can eat properly".
But the interest in respecting fish seasonality should not only be taste. The spawning period is very important for the renewal of the species. "By fishing out of season, we destroy stocks because the fish congregate in tons at this time of the year. Fishermen dredge the beds and literally depopulate the species. And as they spread their nets out wider, they also catch dolphins that get trapped in the nets. A lot of times we cut their fins to get them out and go faster, and in those cases, they have no chance of survival."
Fish Seasons: What to Eat and When?
Coutanceau, whose restaurant is located on the Atlantic coast, must rely on the seasons. "From Brittany to the southwest of France, the seasons are more or less the same. In the Mediterranean, there's a small difference," he warns.
The chef advises that consumers get information depending on where they live, in order to best respect nature and what it offers at that moment. "Today, people are at the forefront of the latest applications and technologies... It would be nice to do the same with what we find naturally on earth. And that goes for everything, starting with the fruit and vegetables. Did you know that the tomato remains the best-selling vegetable in winter, even if the high season is only at the end of July, the beginning of August?"
Another aberration, according to the chef, is the denomination of certain fish, catalogued as 'noble' and 'non-noble'. "It is a term coined by humans that has no meaning. It is because of this kind of stupidity that people want to eat sea bass in all seasons and abandon other fish such as mackerel, which is nevertheless delicious."
At the moment, Coutanceau recommends eating squid, oysters, turbot, seaweed, pollack or pouting. "We have always considered this fish to be food for cats, when in reality it's really good. It is a fish that should be eaten when you come back from fishing because it cannot stand being on ice... You really have to get to know marine species to appreciate them at their true value."
To move forward in this process, the chef from La Rochelle will release a calendar next fall, listing 80 species of fish, crustaceans and marine plants from the Atlantic coast, indicating the season for each, the most suitable fishing method and cooking tips.