Monthly Archives: April 2012

Learning to Cook Fish and Shellfish at Cookery School at Little Portland Street

Grilled Prawns

Almost everything I know about cooking fish I learned from Rick Stein’s Seafood book or from my fishmonger Ben at New Wave Fish Shop. This has all been well and good, but I’ve long wanted someone who knows their stuff to show me how to cook fish.

So it is very fortuitous that one of my recent clients has been Rosalind Rathouse. Rosalind owns Cookery School at Little Portland Street in London and is all at once a like-minded foodie, an admirable businesswoman and a fountain of knowledge on many foodie subjects, including fish and seafood.

Lucy and Rosalind

Last Friday I finally had the chance to go along to one of her Fish and Shellfish classes to learn some new tricks, take some photos and get a closer look at what Cookery School is all about. The class was taught by Rosalind and Lucy, and was three hours of full-on fish tutelage, from how to buy and prepare fish to how to cook with it.

Prawns Mussels

One of the things I really liked was that we learned not only how to buy fish of a good quality, but also how to buy fish responsibly (Cookery School is gung-ho on sustainability and is currently the only cookery school in London to have applied for and been awarded three stars from the Sustainable Restaurant Association). Pollock, mackerel, gurnard, mussels, and squid are all good. Rosalind made the point that to eat sustainably doesn’t mean giving up the foods we love, just “eat less of it, but of a better quality.” I like that philosophy.

I also like her philosophy when it comes to cooking fish: prepare it simply, and serve it with simple sauces that complement the dish and enhance the flavour.

To that end, we learned to make court-bouillon, a poaching liquid in which we poached pollock to use in fish cakes:

Frying fishcakes

We also served some of the poached pollock with a black butter sauce, which literally is butter that’s been heated until it goes black, and then gets seasoned with lemon, capers and parsley. This was awesomely good. I always thought poached fish would be soggy and horrible, but in fact in fact the fish retains its firmness, while the poaching makes it moist. I will definitely be trying this at home.

Poached pollock with black butter sauce

We also learned how to griddle scallops, and made a delicious oriental dressing to go with them.

Grilled scallops

We learned how to make grilled prawns in the shell, which was seriously outstanding, thanks to lots of chilli, garlic and parsley.

Prawns ready for the grill

We learned baked plaice, probably the technique I’ll be going back to most often for its simple preparation and uber-flavour factor. The fish gets coated in olive oil, lemon juice, oregano, salt and pepper, marinates for 30 minutes, then goes in the oven. Presto, baked fish.

Preparing plaice

We learned to clean squid (extremely fun) with which we made a delicious calamari stew, another to-try-at-home dish. It totally appeals to my love for saucy, spicy comfort foods and was remarkably simple, made with white wine, chopped tomatoes, Tabasco, parsley, olive oil, garlic, onions and squid, of course.

Learning to clean a squid Cleaning squid

Calamari stew Calamari stew

The Fish and Shellfish class covered a LOT in three hours. We were in constant motion, trying to get everything done, jumping from one task to the next. One minute I was making a fishcake, the next I was deboning a mackerel. It was exhausting work, and we were all pretty happy to finally sit down with a glass of wine and a sample of all our fishy creations.

Lunch is served

In such a busy class, there wasn’t much time to mentally process everything in the moment – it all just sort of happened. But in its aftermath, I realise that the class achieved what every good class should do: it left me wanting more. It also left me with a great desire to buy and eat a lot of fish! And so on Saturday morning I went to New Wave Fish shop and scored some megrim sole, sea trout and a couple whole herrings.

Last night I prepared the megrim sole (a flat fish similar to plaice) according to the baked plaice recipe and served it with a sauce vierge (one of Rick Stein’s lessons). It was wickedly good:

Baked megrim sole with sauce vierge, spuds & psb.

I gotta give a big thanks to Rosalind, Lucy and the Cookery School team for putting on a terrific class. Fish aside, the atmosphere was really fun and a great exchange of ideas – one of the students told us about his “squid lasagna”, in which he bakes “sheets” of squid in a tomato sauce on a very low heat for a long time, creating a rich tomatoey squid stew. All of us, including Rosalind and Lucy, avowed to experiment with dish on our own.

I think I’d like my next fish adventure to involve actual fishing. Maybe for mackerel? Let’s see if I can make that happen this summer.

Related links:

[Disclaimer: Cookery School at Little Portland Street is a client of mine. I only work with people who’s food standards I can really jive with – and jive I did last Friday!]

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New Wave Fish Shop and a Great Recipe for Sea Trout

Last year the folks at New Wave Fish Shop invited me around to meet the mongers, take some photos and talk fish. Today, I’m finally posting highlights from that visit, plus a fab way for preparing sea trout from Ben who runs the shop.

New Wave Fish Shop

Last night I made one of the best fish dishes I’ve ever made. Credit is due to New Wave Fish Shop and my fishmonger, Ben, who not only supplied me with a beautiful piece of sea trout, but also told me how to cook it in the most delicious way.

Ben is always extremely patient with my fish-related clueless. My usual series of questions include: “What’s good?” “How do I use this?” “What would you serve with it?”

New Wave Fish Shop

Ben wooed me with the sea trout, saying he’d made it the night before and it was “loooovely”. He further explained how to pan-fry it to get great flavour and a nice crispy skin (details are below).

“Serve it with a simple salad: some broad beans, peppers, tomatoes, red onion, maybe some basil – it’s fantastic.”

Sea Trout with Asparagus and Potato Salad

Back at home, I followed his advice and created a meal that totally shocked me – that I could cook something so totally delicious just thoroughly made my evening. And I couldn’t have done it without Ben’s help. That, and the supremely high quality of the fish itself. There’s no denying, this is one beautiful piece of fish:

Sea trout

In general, I’ve always been impressed by the quality of New Wave’s fish, and this is probably one of the reasons I’ve continued eating fish since I started doing so last year. In addition to Ben’s help, I’ve also found their Twitter feed immensely valuable, and through that I’ve gotten to know the New Wave Fish people pretty well. So well, in fact, that they invited me around last year to take some photos and get a closer look at how they run things.

New Wave Fish Shop

New Wave Fish Shop is the retail arm of New Wave Seafood, a specialist fish supplier run by Tim Boyd. I’d never met Tim, and it was cool to hear about how he got started with the whole fish thing:

“It started when I discovered fishing from a young age. I was always fascinated with fish and it was always my favourite food to eat if we went on holiday or went out to eat. My family said I would always work in something related to fish one day! When I moved to the Cotswolds, I worked for a fish wholesaler, but it was the fresh fish that really interested me, and over the next few years I learned about the different species, the way they were caught and which were the best species for eating.”

Tim Boyd, owner of New Wave Seafood

Tim’s been a big proponent of the sustainable seafood thing since before it became fashionable to do so. As such, New Wave Seafood is approved by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and support the Responsible Fishing Scheme (RFS). They have a firm policy to buy seafood from well-managed, sustainable sources, and wherever possible, buy fish that are line-caught by small dayboats to minimize the impact on the marine environment.

New Wave Fish Shop

Being a fish newbie, I wanted to know what makes fish “good quality”. Tim says:

“Look at the eyes, they should be bright. Look at the gills – they should be bright red. The fish should be shiny and have no smell, and if you push the flesh it should be firm and bounce back, not indent.”

So how do you prepare fish in the best way possible? Well, that’s Ben’s department – in addition to doling out the advice, he also makes his own fish cakes and fish pies to sell at the shop.

But when it comes to cooking fish itself, Ben is always about cooking things simply. Below I describe his method for sea trout, proof that when it comes to great ingredients, simple techniques (and an oven-proof pan) are where it’s at.

Ben’s Awesome Way to Prepare Sea Trout

Sea Trout with Asparagus and Potato Salad

First season the fish with salt and pepper, then pan-fry skin-side down for two minutes in an oven-save frying pan. Finally, move the pan into a 200 C oven for 5 minutes.

Serve skin side up with a nice salad. Ben suggested a salad of broad beans, peppers, tomato, red onion and basil. Asparagus is also good. I did a hybrid of his ideas and made a salad of boiled potatoes, asparagus, cherry tomatoes, red onion, lemon juice, red wine vinegar, parsley and basil.

The result was like heaven on a plate. I will definitely be making this again. And consequentially, the leftovers made a terrific breakfast salad the next morning:

Salad with Sea Trout, Potatos and Argan Oil

Big thanks to Tim, Ben, Maisie and everyone at New Wave Seafood for showing me around helping me come to grips with this whole fish eating thing. You’ve been a source of great food and inspiration.

You can find more photos of the beautiful fish at New Wave Fish Shop on Flickr.

UPDATE [April 28, 2012]: A version of this article now also appears in The Foodie Bugle online magazine, a great read if you haven’t checked it out already!

Butternut, Cranberry and Bulgur Salad

Roast Butternut & Cranberry Salad with Bulgar

This isn’t so much a recipe but a concept: combining sweet and savoury flavours to make an awesome, satisfying salad. This salad also throws in some sour flavours too.

I had some cranberries in the freezer from last winter’s cranberry chutney. I also had a butternut squash I needed to use. It occurred to me that the two would be nice together, so I created this salad. I was right about the butternut / cranberry combo – it works, but does need a bit of added sweetness, which I achieved by adding some chopped dates to the mix. I love the texture of the bulgur wheat bits next to the soft butternut squash. This salad is good warm or cold, and makes a great packed lunch (or breakfast!). I highly recommend adding some toasted pistachios, almonds or sunflower seeds as a garnish.

A rough recipe is giving below  – please forgive the estimates on ingredient quantities – part of this salad concept is its randomness – there are no strict rules to making this tasty.

Butternut, Cranberry and Bulgur Salad
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 

Serves: 2
 

Ingredients
  • ½ butternut squash
  • a handful of cranberries
  • crushed fennel and coriander seeds
  • a sprinkle of crushed red pepper
  • salt and pepper
  • a good pinch of brown sugar
  • olive oil
  • a few big spoonfuls of cooked bulgar wheat
  • a couple sliced spring onions
  • chopped fresh coriander
  • a squeeze of lemon juice
  • chopped dates or other dried fruit
  • pistachios, almonds or sunflower seeds

Instructions
  1. Toss the butternut squash, cranberries, fennel and coriander seeds, crushed pepper, salt, pepper, brown sugar and olive oil in a roasting tin. Roast until the butternut squash is tender and starting to brown on the edges.
  2. Put the contents of the roasting tin into a mixing bowl and toss with the remaining ingredients. Taste and adjust the seasoning to suit your tastes.

 

Roast Butternut & Cranberry Salad with Bulgar

Math Nerds Reunited… by Food

Monica and James

Last month my friend James came to visit for a week from New Jersey. I know James from university – we met during the “Mathematics Advanced Study Semester”, aka “MASS 2000″, at Penn State University (sorta like “study abroad” for math geeks, only you don’t really go abroad, you go to deepest, darkest Pennsylvania, where nobody can find you).

That was a tough semester for both of us, for various reasons not worth reliving, but the major upshot is that we became really good friends and still keep in touch 12 years later. That’s cool, I think.

James at Avebury

This visit was the first time I’d seen James in several years, and we’ve both changed massively since then. And yet, certain aspects of our personalities seem to have followed the same trajectory, which may partially explain why we continue to get along so well.

In particular, our feelings on food. When we first met, I don’t recall us having very discriminating tastes – about exotic as we got was a trip to the Indian buffet. And I don’t remember us EVER cooking anything together.

But this visit was like a revealing – the two of us almost bizarrely in foodie sync. We made epic meals every evening except one (because he spent the day in London) and also did a bit of dining out in the countryside as well. In fact, the days pretty much followed my ideal trajectory: easy-going mornings followed by lunch somewhere nice followed by a bit of sight-seeing followed by long leisurely cooking (and drinking) sessions at home in the evening.

Posh mushrooms on toast

I wanted to jot down the menus from our epic feasts, all of which were amazing – of the meals we created, I can’t think of a single “miss”. There is totally a cookery book waiting to happen here.

Veggie BBQ Night

  • On the grill: eggplant, courgette, fennel, leeks red pepper
  • Flatbread with caraway (adapted from my chapatti recipe)
  • Accoutrements: Hummus, olives, rocket
  • Red wine to drink

This was followed by an amazing cheese plate: Cornish Brie (awesome), mystery cheese (can’t remember, how annoying), Olde Yorke Ewes Cheese (mmm, nice creamy and crumbly), Duchy Organic Stilton (my go-to Stilton). On the side: grapes, crackers, chutneys galore. And absurd amounts of port.

Ravioli Night

Homemade ravioli

James brought me a nifty ravioli maker that we put to use in some classic spinach and ricotta ravioli.

  • Fresh ricotta made by Monica using Carl Legge’s technique
  • Homemade ravioli with spinach and aforementioned fresh ricotta, a joint effort between James and Monica (following a hybrid of the pasta recipe on foodnetwork.com and the recipe on the pasta flour bag)
  • Simple marinara sauce
  • “Roman style” purple sprouting broccoli, James’ invention, so good
  • Accoutrements: Leftover grilled veg, grana padano, rocket, lots of wine

Ravioli nipples

Fish Taco Night

Fish taco night

Declared winners of taco night were the mango and pineapple salsa and the raw kale salad.

  • Grilled haddock
  • Mango and pineapple salsa, made with mango, red pepper, red onion, pineapple, cilantro and lime
  • Raw kale salad
  • Grilled pineapple
  • Accoutrements: corn tortillas, avocado, lime

Indian Night

Indian Night

We made three recipes from Das Shreedharan’s cookbook, The New Tastes of India. Everything was exceptional, but I think the red pepper curry is the dish we’d both come back to time and time again.

  • Okra curry
  • Red pepper curry
  • Cucumber curry
  • Chapatti
  • Yogurt
  • Rose to drink

Cooking from "A New Taste of India"

Middle Eastern Night

Middle Eastern Night

In our final feast, James was a machine, kicking out all of the hits. The mezze of champions:

  • Greek salad (by James) with spinach, tomato, feta, boiled egg, red onion and green pepper
  • Tzatziki (by James) made with cucumber, garlic and mint
  • Baba ganoush (by James) made with aubergine, tahini, and (I think) olive oil and lemon juice
  • Wholemeal pitta bread (by me), an adaptation of my grilled pitta recipe in which I discovered that SIFTED wholemeal flour makes marvellous pittas!
  • Tabbouleh (by Monica) made using Moro’s tabbouleh recipe published in the Guardian in 2007 (I love this recipe)
  • Accoutrements: raw veggies, pistachios, pomegranate
  • Red wine to drink

How we managed to fit in another cheese plate, I don’t know, but we did it with gusto and it was spectacular:

Cheese plate to end all cheese plates

In addition to our epic feasts, we also enjoyed a few delicious meals out, particular at the Village Pub in Bibury and The Bell at Sapperton. We also had a very average meal at The Ship in Pewsey but loved being at a pub that wasn’t full of rich people and didn’t mind our “squeaky” dog (Rocky doesn’t quite have the hang of the pub yet). James had fish & chips on three separate occasions. I reckon The Village Pub’s was most impressive:

James 2nd Fish & Chips

The only way I know to end this post is with a big bear hug of a thank you to James for flying all the way out here and coming to visit me in my far flung little cottage. Thanks also for all the wonderful treats you brought me. Check out this goodie bag:

Goodies from James

The loot: L’Occitane Hand Cream (cuz people who swim and bake lots of bread are totally susceptible to dry hands!); groovy cheese knives (I thing the artichoke edition is my favourite); ravioli maker (it took us both brains and two tries to figure out, but it’s awesome); and a super cute apron that is just begging to be employed during a warm summer barbecue (come on tank top weather!).

And finally, a requisite Stonehenge shot:

Stonehenge!!!

More pictures!! Of food, England and Rocky in the Flickr photoset: James in England