Feel the Fear and Cook it Anyway
Last year I spent a morning at the Billingsgate Seafood School above the historic fish market in London's Docklands. Following a challenging 4.30am wake-up call, I headed off through the wintry dark to a seemingly parallel world of bright lights and wet floors, steel-capped boots and white wellies, noisy banter and fish. Gleaming whiff-free fish. Boxes and boxes of it, stretching as far as the eye could see.
At every turn there was something to surprise and enthral. Huge octopus with
suckers the size of bagels, massive Caribbean fish in all the colours of the
rainbow, hitherto unheard of varieties of smoked fish, tanks of prowling crabs
and lobsters, piles of juicy scallops and clams, and – most fascinating of all –
water-filled metal drawers full of writhing eels.
My next visit took place at a more civilised hour. I spent a fascinating afternoon
learning about sustainable seafood from the icy waters of the North Atlantic, courtesy of Atlantic Canada Exports. And what a feast that was. We were treated to meaty lobster and snow crab, wild Canadian red fish, juicy sea scallops, and deliciously sweet cold-water shrimp, all expertly cooked by CJ Jackson, Seafood School Director, and washed down with exquisite Canadian wine.
I came away with a bulging bag of Canadian goodies, including a strong hoppy beer, Newfoundland sea salt, top-notch maple syrup and a dangerously addictive maple vodka liqueur, plus plenty of new ideas for cooking fish and seafood. I also learned how to painlessly despatch a lobster – not as daunting as you might think. Check out my recipe for Barbecued Lobster with New Potatoes and Watercress – perfect for a special summer barbecue.
At a more down-to-earth level, cooking fish and seafood is relatively easy but many people are afraid of it. This may be because of best-forgotten memories of bones, or the smell (fresh fish doesn't), or those fishy eyes staring up from the fishmonger's slab. Or it may be down to lack of confidence.
If you're new to fish cookery, arm yourself with a good fish cookery book, and stick to simple methods such as shallow-frying, grilling and steaming. Or try the quick foolproof method of roasting fish in a parcel, as in my recipe for Sea Bass Parcels with Fennel and Preserved Lemon.
Find out about fish
© Christine McFadden, May 2018