Chef Wesley Cameron, lecturer at the Capsicum Culinary Studio Pretoria campus, has been working in the culinary industry for over 10 years and has held notable positions throughout his career. What better way to receive insight into the world of fish, than from this professional.
Wesley shares his insights on what it means to be sustainable in terms of fish produce, cooking and sourcing.
What difficulties do you face when working and cooking with fish?
Fish has an extremely delicate texture and can be easily damaged if you’re not sure of where or how to cut it. Practice makes perfect when working with fish and the more experience that is gained, the easier it becomes. It’s also a high-risk food item which means it’s very susceptible to bacterial growth and special care should be taken during storage and preparation.
Even though it’s quite risky to work with, do you consider it a versatile ingredient?
Definitely, due to the different textures, flavours and the varieties available. In particular, I love working with different curing and smoking flavours when it comes to salmon.
We know that ocean resources are depleting, so what can industry chefs do to ensure the longevity of fish?
Familiarise yourself with sustainable fish lists like SASSI and only put those on your menu, because you don’t need rare items to make exceptional dishes. However, most of the time customers would be interested in experiencing certain species of fish, which might not be on these lists. Therefore, it’s important to familiarise yourself and your staff about these species.
When it comes to cooking fish, what is your favourite?
During summer I love pairing fresh fruit salsas with pan-seared fish fillets, especially Yellowtail or Salmon. But to go with the current trends, a Paupiette of Sole (a long, thin slice of fish rolled and stuffed) with pickled summer vegetables, beetroot puree, buttered garden peas and tabbouleh salad makes great additions to the summer table.
What’s your favourite fish dish to eat?
Without a doubt a traditional Spanish Paella. The combination of Chorizo sausage, paprika flavours, saffron-braised rice, paired with fresh fish and shellfish is magical.
Fish cakes are always a popular menu choice, however they can be tricky. What are your tips to make the perfect fish cake?
Infusing flavours is important during preparation. Follow this with flavours of fresh herbs and spices in the fish cake itself and bulk it up with potato. The ratio should always be more fish. Lastly, I prefer to fry them in golden, clarified butter for a rich and crispy outer layer.
We know that there’s always a kitchen story from chefs, what stands out for you with regards to fish?
I once worked in a kitchen where I was the only chef allowed to break down and portion the fresh fish. One day, we received a Tuna so big it took four chefs to carry it! It was about 1.7meters with a skin approximately ½ cm thick. By the end of breaking it down, I had contracted iodine poisoning from all the scrapes and pricks in the process.
At the end of the day, getting your hands ‘dirty’ is par for the course when being a chef and it teaches you valuable lessons during your culinary career.
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