Introduction

Introduction

By
Nathan Outlaw
Contains
0 recipes
Published by
Quadrille Publishing
ISBN
9781849493727
Photographer
David Loftus

People often ask me how I keep coming up with new dishes. The answer isn’t straightforward, but to keep at the top of my game and to satisfy my creativity my cooking has to continuously evolve. Some of my favourite times in my kitchens are when I get together with the guys to discuss and try out ideas for new dishes. Sometimes a supplier brings in something that triggers my imagination. I think to myself, ‘That would be nice with…’, or I draw on my classical training or experiences I’ve had eating elsewhere; then again a new dish may emerge from a happy accident!

Whatever the source of the idea, the recipes in this book are for dishes I’ve created and love to cook both in the restaurant kitchens and at home. And the key is that they are simple to prepare, based on sustainable species and all made with ingredients you can shop for easily.

I want you to use this book, not just put it on a shelf! I want you to realise that cooking fish and seafood is not as difficult as many people seem to think. To make life easier I’ve divided the recipes into chapters according to the way each dish is cooked – or just prepped in the case of raw dishes.

For each chapter, I have given you information about the technique used that will help you to understand what happens to the seafood as you follow the recipe, thus enabling you to get fantastic results. I’ve also indicated the varieties of fish and shellfish that respond best to each technique and suggested appropriate accompaniments and garnishes, so that you wow those you are cooking for every time.

To give you an insight into my style of cooking, I’ve covered all the techniques I use. I like to think I’m not a stereotypical chef. I don’t have signature dishes, I do not make demands on my fishermen or suppliers, and I don’t cook food that is complicated. My dishes may be complex in terms of their flavour and texture combinations, but they are really not overly complicated to prepare. That’s the secret!

So, how do I decide what I’m going to cook? Local seafood is, of course, my main source of inspiration. For me, creating a dish always starts with the fish or shellfish. That definitely has to be ‘the star of the show’. Then I look to the other produce that is available to me and in season, using only the best quality – that way I can be sure of great results. Unlike meat and poultry, seafood is highly seasonal, so it is variable and it isn’t always available when you’d like it to be. I’ve learnt to deal with this by taking a flexible approach to my cooking, mixing and matching where necessary.

Some of my most successful dishes have been born out of adversity – for instance, when a particular fish hasn’t been landed due to bad weather. (The smaller boats can’t get out when the weather is bad.) I am always thinking about food, forever learning about food and, most critically, always tasting it as I cook.

Every type of seafood is different. Even the same species will respond differently depending on the way you cook it – or don’t as the case may be. It varies according to size, where it is from and how it’s been caught. Using the seasons to full advantage is the best starting point, but I also want to give you a few tips and tricks that will enable you to take seafood to another level, without losing its beautiful purity and character. Acidity and salt are seafood’s best friends – their balance is vital to the success of a dish; confidence, practice and tasting are the only ways to get these right.

I can understand the fear of cooking fish and seafood: it has bones; it smells; it has a slimy appearance and sometimes it’s alive! I’ve therefore made it my mission to remove the fear, mystery and awkwardness that surround seafood cookery. With practice, prepping fish yourself and dealing with the bones isn’t difficult – just follow my step-by-step guides to the different varieties, or befriend a good fishmonger who will happily do it for you. Next, follow my recipes and you’ll see that it really isn’t something to be fearful of.

As for it being smelly, really fresh fish should have an inviting aroma of the sea; it will only have an unpleasantly ‘fishy’ smell if it’s not in good condition. And you can avoid lingering fishy odours after cooking if you wrap up the skin, bones and leftovers immediately and put them straight in an outside bin – not in your kitchen food bin. A great tip for you: after prepping fish, rinse your hands and preparation equipment – board, knives, etc. – in cold water first, then hot. If you use warm or hot water first it will cook the fish residue, which then sticks to your skin, boards etc., making them smell.

Contrary to what you might think, slime is a good sign. If it’s absent, it suggests the fishmonger or shopkeeper may have washed it off to make the fish more presentable, possibly because it’s not as fresh as it should be. The slime is easily washed off, but again, use cold water.

Don’t be put off by seafood that’s alive. Think about it: it’s the freshest way you can get it. As long as you do that seafood justice, it should be an honour and pleasure to cook and eat it, not something to be afraid of. If you don’t like to see it wriggling or moving about, then all I can say is ‘man up and get over it’. This is great seafood!

It’s well known that fish and seafood are a healthy food choice. It is recommended that we eat at least two portions per week, one of which should be oily fish. Personally, I think that’s not enough, but then I would say that! Joking aside, all seafood is a very good source of protein and many vitamins and minerals.

Oily fish are particularly beneficial as they have the added bonus of omega-3 fatty acids, which can help keep your heart, joints, skin and eyes healthy, and (as my nan used to tell me when I was a child) boost your brainpower! Obviously, coating the fish in batter and deep-frying it isn’t great, but there are plenty of healthier cooking methods to choose from which can be just as, if not more, delicious. Oily fish, such as whitebait, anchovies and tinned sardines, can be eaten whole, bones and all, which is good for our bones as they’re an excellent source of calcium and phosphorus.

White fish is very low in fat, making it a much better source of protein than most red and processed meats, which tend to be high in fat, particularly unhealthy saturated fat. Similarly, shellfish is also low in fat and a good source of zinc, iodine, copper and selenium. Mussels, oysters and crab, in particular, contain omega-3 fatty acids, though not as much as oily fish.

However, you should be aware that you can overdo it with oily fish, so it’s advisable to eat no more than four or five portions a week. If you are pregnant that needs to reduce to a couple of portions. Unfortunately, this is down to pollutants found in oily fish. A little word of warning about swordfish (not featured in this book), which should be avoided totally by pregnant woman because it contains higher levels of mercury than other fish. If you’re not pregnant then the recommendation is that it is alright to eat one or two portions of swordfish per week.

As far as white fish is concerned, it is ok to eat as much as you like; however, if eating bream, bass and turbot be aware that these can contain low levels of pollutants too, so it’s not wise to eat them every day. With shellfish, you can pretty much go for it, but take it easy with brown crab meat.

Sustainability is very much a watchword at the moment, and so it should be. There are a few good organisations with websites and apps for your phone that will enable you to keep up to date with the constantly changing news about sustainable species (try www.msc.org and www.fishonline.org), but the best way to find out if your seafood is sustainable is to ask your fishmonger. He or she should be able to tell you everything about the seafood you are buying, notably whether it is sustainable and what fishing practice has been used to catch it. If they can’t, go somewhere they can!

Understanding seasonality is important too. When fish and shellfish are spawning, we should avoid catching and eating them, to give them a chance to reproduce, thus encouraging the species to thrive. Recently spawned fish isn’t good to eat anyway because all its energy has been used to create healthy eggs, so the quality of the muscle flesh is reduced. If we want to be able to choose from a variety of seafood in the future, we really cannot afford to overlook the issue of sustainability. So I urge you to ask before you buy and if you don’t like what you hear, don’t buy it.

Any fishmonger worth his or her salt will make sure you walk away with really great seafood. It’s in their interest to do so. The whole seafood business is built up on trust; it’s quite simple, if you don’t get good service and fantastic fish you won’t go back. The first thing you need to look for is cleanliness: clean fish (especially shellfish), clean display area, clean floor and clean fishmonger! A good fishmonger will want to show off his or her seafood proudly rather than hide it.

Next, take a closer look at the fish. Is there any visible damage? Where there should be scales, are they intact? Are the eyes clear, with almost a sparkle to them? Are the gills bright red, not dull? Check that there are no red bruise marks on the fish as this could be down to poor handling. Some fish, especially lemon sole and turbot, should have a nice layer of slime. And, as I’ve said before, it should have that lovely smell of the sea that reminds you where it’s come from, not an aroma that repels you.

Another tip. When you go to buy seafood, take a cool bag and ice blocks with you, unless you know your fishmonger will be packing the fish in ice when you buy it. Online fishmongers will use special packaging to ensure their seafood reaches you in good condition. When you get your fish home, I suggest you move your salad out of the salad drawer and use it for your fish instead.

Oysters and shellfish are ok stored at standard fridge temperature (4°C), but fish should, ideally, be kept at about 1°C (though a little higher won’t hurt). You can achieve this by using ice packs, but don’t place them in direct contact with the fish, or it will suffer freezer-burn. You’ll also need to change the ice regularly, before it turns to water – sea fish do not take well to being kept in fresh water.

Fish freezes well and it’s a sensible thing to do if you get the chance of a true bargain or are offered a large haul. Make sure it is very fresh though, then wrap it really well in freezer wrap, seal it in a bag and it will be fine for a few months. The best way to defrost fish is slowly in the fridge – either overnight or throughout the day if you are cooking it in the evening. Cooked lobster and crab also freeze well, if well wrapped.

When assembling your fish and seafood prep toolkit, the first item on your list should be a good-quality flexible filleting knife (but not one that is too bendable or it will be hard to control and potentially dangerous, not to mention difficult to sharpen). You’ll also need a good heavy cook’s knife for cracking lobsters and cutting through the bones of fish for steaks. For the latter, I use a rubber mallet to hit the knife for extra force if necessary. When it comes to removing heads from whole fish, a strong, serrated knife is the ideal tool.

I use a sturdy boning knife to open scallop shells and to remove the flat shell, then I prise the scallop from the shell with a cheap, flat metal tablespoon (the sort you find in a school canteen or motorway service station). I also use the handle end of that spoon to pick out crab meat from the shell and lobster claws and knuckles.

For descaling fish, I find that a small, serrated knife is the easiest tool to use, but you can buy a proper fish descaler, or scrape away the scales with the edge of a scallop shell, if you prefer. Strong tweezers are essential for removing the pin bones from fish too.

Buy yourself a smooth, heavy, blue plastic chopping board and keep it solely for prepping fish. Generally, I don’t favour plastic chopping boards, but with seafood it really is the only way. After use, wash it in cold water first to get rid of any fishy bits and then use hot, soapy water to wash it thoroughly. On really hot days I put the board in the fridge before I prepare my fish; it helps to keep the temperature down.

Of course, there are specific items of equipment for different cooking techniques and you’ll find details of these at the start of each chapter. Please, don’t skimp on quality. Good-quality equipment will last you a lifetime and it is much nicer to use. Cheaper alternatives are a false economy.

So, that’s about it. You have some useful ‘insider’ tips, your fish and seafood toolkit is ready and all you need to do now is choose your recipe. Happy cooking!

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