On Fish

From Chapter Six, “Fish” of English Cooking: A New Approach by Rupert Croft-Cooke (London, 1960), pp. 92-93:

Our taste in fish, in the last few decades, has lamentably declined.  The many statistics discoverable shew everything but what proportion of the huge quantities landed in British ports is destined for the fish-and-chip shop.  They shew that the average daily landing of fish at Grimsby and Hull combined is well over a thousand tons.  They shew that the number of men employed in fishery has diminished as the steam trawler needs less manpower for greater catches, also that the smaller ports which have contributed so much to our supremacy on the seas since the Brixham and Barking smacks opened up the North Sea grounds, have ceased to count, till Plymouth and Blyth, Stronsay and Scarborough have become negligible in this respect and London itself has ceased to be a fishing-port as through its history it has been.  They shewed many sad and interesting things but not what I suspect to be the truth, that though our consumption has not declined, the fish has lost caste, and from being “the fish course” in countless dinner parties and family meals, the pride of the cook and the salvation of the dinner when the bird turned out to be tough, the sustenance of the invalid recommended by family doctors with a bedside manner, the glory of banquets and the central triumph of a high tea, it has become a lump of anonymous course-grained muck, just not tainted but never fresh, smothered in greasy batter, oozing the rancid oil in which it has been cooked, and eaten—as one can almost understand—swimming in chemicalized vinegar.
In the days before inverted snobbery was fashionable I was, I suppose, a determined inverted snob, proud of my prowess at darts, scorning saloon bars and genuinely at home with sawdust underfoot, preferring the fairground and circus to the theatre stalls, travelling with gypsies and for three years out of six of war service obstinately remaining in the ranks.  But I did not, I’m glad to say now, carry this to the length of frequenting fish-and-chip shops, whose stench has always seemed to me an offence to human dignity.  Winkles with a pin in seaside lodgings by all means, shrimps bought by the pints from the man who has pushed his net for them of course, mussels and cockles any way you like, kippers at a penny a pair toasted before the fire, but to eat the carcases of dog-fish from much-handled copies of newspapers, this is going to far.
So between the pseudo sumptuous and the bleakly disagreeable we must find ways of eating fish, that special provision for mankind which cannot even yet be secured without some danger, without some element of the primitive pursuit of food.  In spite of the mechanization of the industry there is still a touch of poetry and drama in the fishing fleet and its conditions which communicates itself to the catch.  The white and grey and dappled creatures on a fishmonger’s slab are not there as a matter of course, (we learned that during the war) and this alone should earn to them some consideration.  Their own natural excellence deserves more.