Fish & shellfish

Fish & shellfish

By
Skye Gyngell
Contains
8 recipes
Published by
Quadrille Publishing
ISBN
9781844006212
Photographer
Jason Lowe

I love fish of all description. Their clean, clear flavours appeal to me and I’ve become increasingly confident in cooking them. The variety is endless, from spanking fresh oily fish – like sardines, mackerel and anchovies – to the more subtle white-fleshed species – such as halibut, bass, bream and sole. The largest of the white flatfish, turbot – affectionately known as the king of the sea – can be considered somewhat in between in the kitchen. It has rich, succulent white flesh that can take the intense flavours of porcini, girolles, or even bone marrow.

I am particularly fond of shellfish, especially juicy king scallops, sweet crab from the Dorset coast and our luscious native lobsters. And I love the way mussels and clams add their distinctive flavour to everything they come into contact with. Bread is an essential partner to these bivalves – to mop up every trace of their delicious briny juices.

Just as all things worth eating have a time and place in which they are at their very best, so does fish. Lobster, for example, is beautiful in the spring and autumn when its flesh is firm and sweet. Mussels are at their prime in the autumn. Their beautiful appearance and plump, orange flesh – tasting of the sea – makes me eager to devour them. They work well with strong, clear flavours, such as ripe tomatoes, chilli, garlic, rosemary and wine vinegar. Surprisingly though, mussels are equally good with the delicate flavours of saffron, white wine and crème fraîche. Clams too, though they can seem fiddly to eat, lend a superb flavour to the most basic of dishes. Linguine with vongole (clams), for example, is merely pasta tossed with clams, garlic, a little dried chilli, a splash of white wine and lashings of good grassy olive oil... yet it is a dish fit for a king.

There is much to say on the virtues of our other shellfish – noble lobster and delicate crab, of course, but also beautiful scallops, with their plump sweet flesh. I love to eat them griddled with garlicky butter or tossed with an array of winter leaves. Poole prawns that arrive in September are another favourite. These are so tiny and full of flavour, they need nothing more than a squeeze of lemon juice, a sprinkling of salt and perhaps a few slivers of fresh red chilli.

As for oily fish – anchovies, sardines, mackerel and herring – these are delicious without question, as long as they are very fresh. Their lovely, oily flesh spoils quickly, so they need to be eaten soon after you buy them – preferably the same day, or at least within 24 hours. They also need to be served piping hot. Vinegar cuts through their strong flavours successfully, as does horseradish, and a sweet foil of tomatoes or beetroot and a sprinkling of salt is vital for these fish.

Wild halibut, caught off the coast of Scotland, is quite simply the cleanest and whitest of all fish, with a beautiful texture. It marries well with just about anything – from tandoor spices to a simple accompaniment of spinach dressed with olive oil and a good squeeze of lemon. Wild salmon, in season from mid-spring through early summer, is only ever a rare treat. Its deep orangey pink flesh has a delicate richness, which I adore. Baked whole in salt, it is a delight served with freshly made mayonnaise and young peppery rocket, or the first new potatoes of the year pulled straight from the ground – and perhaps a plate of sliced ripe tomatoes.

Turbot – rich and gelatinous – is a different beast altogether. It benefits from being cooked on the bone and can carry stronger flavours. One way to cook it is with porcini mushrooms, sourdough breadcrumbs and bone marrow – a lovely elegant dish to serve in the colder months. And then there is wild bass and bream, and beautiful red mullet with its distinctive flavour of the sea… so many tempting options.

Lastly I must not forget monkfish, the great pretender, known as poor man’s lobster in France because its flesh is more reminiscent of a crustacean than a white fish. Firm, meaty and bouncy, with only one central bone to remove, it is delicious served with white beans laced with tomatoes and tarragon, or in a rustic fish stew.

The wealth of the sea is truly breathtaking and seemingly endless, which brings me to one final, very important consideration. Of this rich bounty we must take care, for its ecosystem has become so very fragile. The waters of the world have been ruthlessly overfished and supplies are dwindling on a frightening scale. We must take from them wisely and carefully – sustainably. I urge you to seek out fish that have been line caught, close to our shores. Ask your fishmonger where his fish has come from – has it been caught by local day boats rather than deep-sea trawlers? Steer clear of species during their spawning season, and at other times avoid taking too much of any one of them. Be aware of endangered species – wild salmon, halibut, monkfish etc. – and eat them rarely. It is vital, so that we – and those who come after us – may be able to continue to enjoy them…

We use hand-dived scallops at the restaurant, each one individually picked by someone, as opposed to trawled in nets that are dragged along the bottom of the sea, damaging just about everything they come into contact with.

Recipes in this Chapter

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