A couple of weeks ago I went on a fish cookery course. Remember my bread course? Well I went back to the same place and had an amazing day making friends with fish. This is the first opportunity I have had to try out some of the skills at home.
When I was growing up we didn’t eat much fish and when we did it was standard 70s fare; fish fingers or boil-in-the-bag. So, although I spent time watching my mum cook, I never really learned how to prepare or cook fish. Fast forward 25 years or so and I found myself living in Cornwall, by the sea, surrounded by the most amazing fish and shell fish you can imagine. Fish became my favourite thing to eat in restaurants and bars but I still didn’t eat much at home.
My lovely husband is allergic to shellfish (proper, full on “anaphylactic shock” allergic – not just “feels a bit queasy” allergic) so I never cook shellfish at home. For years he didn’t like eating fish either as he was nervous about the bones and I allowed this to be my excuse not to cook much seafood at all.
Then a few years ago a friend of ours opened a fish shop in the village – amazing. I could go in and choose my fish and he would do all the tricky bits; cleaning, filleting, pin-boning etc. But it felt a bit like cheating even then. I did, however, become quite proficient at cooking fish so my skills developed, albeit slowly.
Last year Rik closed the fish shop and became a postman (so I guess I wasn’t the only one who didn’t buy enough fish) and I was back to being scared. I did try to fillet a mackerel but ended up with something fit only for making mousse! Finally, I decided enough was enough and I signed up for the fish course at Philleigh Way Cookery School.
The first thing I was faced with was – you guessed it – a mackerel. The first thing I learned was – I can fillet fish! George showed us how and then handed me that most treasured of items – a beautifully sharp, flexible, filleting knife. I was smitten. I know good knives are important but I was also brought up in the school of “a bad workman blames his tools” so this knife was a revelation. So much so that I bought one – no excuses now.
Then we moved on to preparing and cooking flat fish, crab and mussels before learning how to make a simple smoker in order to smoke mackerel fillets. Just as last time I had an amazing day, I met some lovely people, learned some invaluable skills, took some risks and overcame some fears. I was also treated wonderfully well; champagne mid-morning and wine with lunch plus we ate everything we cooked. A highlight of the day for me was a trip down to the river (sitting on bales of hay in a trailer towed by the farm quad) to cook mussels, al fresco.
Anyone looking at my photos will see that my filleting is far from perfect. It’s OK, I already know that. The course didn’t make me an expert but it did make me brave enough to try and that’s good enough for me. I took immense pleasure in walking into a fish shop this week and buying two sea bass. I came home, got out my knife (it lives in its box in a drawer away from the other knives so that it never gets used for anything other than fish), took a deep breath and started filleting. I was really pleased with the results and even more so when Martin ate it without finding a single bone – something that rarely happens when you buy fillets.
I pan fried the fillets and served them with gremolata and colcannon.
Gremolata is just chopped parsley, garlic and lemon zest. You can serve it dry, sprinkled on cooked meats or fish (it is traditionally served with Ossobuco) or you can do as I did and add a little olive oil to make a sauce. The proportions are roughly zest of one lemon, to one large clove of garlic and a generous handful of parsley but adjust it to your own taste.
If you want to find out more about the fish course visit the bun scuffle facebook page where you will find lots of photos from the day.