Gillian Singleton works on the Tesco fish counter at the Ashby-de-la-Zouch store. She recently completed an NVQ as part of a Tesco training programme. She explains to us what this involved and how it benefits you.
How long have you worked on the fish counter at Tesco?
I’ve been on the counters for nine years, having originally started on the meat counter. Once I’d been on the residential course to learn more about fish I moved over to the fish department.
How long did the course take?
It took me about 16 months in total. I had my initial training on a two-night, three-day residential course in Grimsby. Then I was given an intensive workbook that I had to take away and complete. You get assigned with an assessor who periodically visits you in store to check on your progress, giving you any help and support you may need with your work. Once I’d finished the workbook I went on another residential course. At the end of it I received a nationally recognised qualification: an NVQ in seafood and shellfish skills.
Was the course hands-on or more theory-based?
It was a bit of both. As part of the course we went to an early-morning fish auction in Grimsby to see buyers purchasing fish as it comes in from the quayside. We also went to factories to see how the fish is processed and packed. It gave me an idea of what goes on behind the scenes. When I get my delivery in store in the morning I know exactly where my fish comes from and the journey it’s been on to get to Tesco.
How does the fish get processed?
I went to see a factory that processes cod, haddock and salmon. I learned how it gets divided into sizes. If it isn’t being left whole it may be pin-boned. Then it goes off to be portioned and packed up further down the line. It made me appreciate the time restraints the factories face in getting the fish packed and ready. I was also lucky enough to visit a flatfish factory in Grimsby that processes plaice, lemon sole and haddock. It has one of just a few flatfish processing machines in Europe that fillets flatfish, which can be tricky. On my second residential course I also went to a smoking house to see the techniques involved in smoking salmon and haddock.
What else did the course cover?
I learned about sustainability, which has given me a better appreciation of the reasons behind why Tesco doesn’t stock certain types of fish, so I can relay that to customers. There was an element of history too as we were taught about the way the fishing industry has evolved. It included methods of catching fish and the nets that are used. Trout, sea bass and tilapia are all farmed in the UK, making them more sustainable. We know their complete life cycle and it’s easier to keep track of them.
How does your qualification benefit customers?
The extra knowledge I’ve got has given me more confidence to advise people. I have a good understanding of how Tesco sources its fish and I can share this with customers. The aim is for Tesco to send at least one person from every store on the course to give staff on all of the fish counters across the country the same insight.
Did you learn any cooking techniques?
We were given free range of the kitchen at the Grimsby Institute. A local seafood chef showed us how to prepare fish and make meals from it. We did an intensive filleting course to make sure we were able to fillet fish properly. Again, this skill comes in handy when I’m speaking to customers. People can be a bit scared of fish, as they’re not sure what to do with it. I can talk them through how easy it is and recommend what type of fish they should use, depending on how they plan to cook it and what type of dish it’s being used for.
How do customers know the fish they buy from the counter at Tesco is of high quality?
A number of quality checks take place in the factories. When they run a production line they only work with one species at a time. On the fish counter you see it on display so there’s no chance of it getting mixed up. And in my store it has to get past me. If I’m not happy with the quality there’s no way I’d put it on display and sell it.
How long do you keep the fish for?
It really depends on the type of fish. Some species have longer shelf lives than others. Whole fish stay fresher than fish that has been filleted, but on average, once the box is delivered and the seal is broken we keep the fish for two days. Most of the shellfish we use comes to us frozen – we just take out what we need for that day.
Do you sell any unusual fish?
At the moment we’ve got Cornish gurnard in stock. It’s quite an ugly-looking fish, so people tend to be curious and ask what they should do with it. It’s a tasty, fresh fish that’s great baked or fried and it’s also good for making fish stock.
What’s the most common mistake people make when cooking fish?
It’s really easy to overcook fish, especially meaty fish such as tuna and swordfish. It just takes a few minutes, which is why fish is great if you’re pushed for time, as it’s so quick to make.
See all fish recipes here.