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.
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.
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:
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.
We also learned how to griddle scallops, and made a delicious oriental dressing to go with them.
We learned how to make grilled prawns in the shell, which was seriously outstanding, thanks to lots of chilli, garlic and parsley.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
[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!]