Seafood School Gossip Olympic Ghost Town!

Posted on December 18, 2013 by CJ

No one can deny that the Olympics have been a splendid affair,…. BUT after being told to keep off the roads during the Olympics, the message really did sink in…. East London was like a ghost town and most of us found it much quicker than usual to get from A to B, but trade at the market was slow.

On a positive note our ‘Pop Up’ School in Kent sold well and we worked with some fantastic south coast fish: plaice, slip soles, brill, herring and cuttlefish. We also prepared trout too.

‘Pop Up’ is all about fish preparation and then we cook a selection of dishes for our guests to enjoy for lunch. We grilled the mackerel with chilli and ketjap manis, made seafood stock, smoked the trout and made a Smoked Fish Morrocan Couscous for lunch. Our guests took away a tray roast of white fish with cherry tomatoes and basil for supper.

I think the highlight for most was the cuttlefish – I did think at the time that I was mad working with it in my own kitchen – as this time it was me – and NOT Tony (our Kitchen Assistant) that had to clean at the end of the day.

During ‘Pop Up’ the age old concerns about cleaning after fish preparation was a talking point. One of our guests commented on how ‘unfishy’ my kitchen smelt – and that was after 14 trout, 14 plaice, 14 Dover sole, 8 cuttlefish and prawns where prepared (scaled, trimmed, gutted etc) and half a dustbin was filled with the debris.

This made me reflect on one of my main reasons for writing about fish. When I wrote the Leiths Fish Bible with Leiths in the early 1990s – I remember thinking that many consumers know they should eat more fish because it’s healthy – but were concerned about tackling it: unsure about how to prepare and cook it well, but importantly – concerned as to how to make sure the house doesn’t smell after prep and cooking! I lived in a flat at that time – and I really did appreciate the latter.

At Billingsgate Seafood School we are meticulous with our cleaning schedule and talk about the best way to clean down to ensure there are no reminders the following day. We keep this message simple and there are a few easy steps to take.

Hands: we recommend washing hands in hot soapy water to begin with, but then ALWAYS rinse hands in cold water once fish has been handled, this removes any traces of the fish – then hot soapy water again.  If you put your hands directly under a hot tap once you have handled fish it tends to ‘cook the aroma’ into the skin…. It is a simple but very effective rule. Many chefs recommend using salt and lemon – but where is that lemon when you need it?!

Equipment: The same process of cold rinsing and a hot soapy wash apply to all here too. We use plastic chopping mats for fish prep and all our utensils have plastic handles. Rinse all equipment thoroughly in cold water first, then wash thoroughly in very hot soapy water. Once we have finished for the day, we then soak all our equipment in Milton (the baby bottle sterlizing solution) for a short period of time.

With fish waste at home I put this away from everything else, double wrap it in a plastic bag and then freeze it until dustbin day.

Cooking fish ‘en papilotte’ – wrapped in paper or foil produces the least amount of aroma during and after cooking. Poaching fish in a covered dish in the oven is also effective. I remember the trick of adding a bayleaf to boiling cabbage or cauliflower to lessen the aroma of that – never sure whether that did work!

Anyway – ‘Pop Up’ was successful and we will be running a few more of these over the winter. In the meantime we have ‘Pop Up’ Seafood Restaurant at Billingsgate Market coming up… We have just published dates in October, November and then a festive special for December. The places are limited on these dates.

I managed to escape from the market and we had a lovely few days on the Suffolk coast. Apart from the beach, sun and fishing for crabs on Bawdsey Quay, we enjoyed some locally caught seafood:  native lobsters, brown crabs, rock oysters from Butley Oysterage and some fabulous smoked seafood from Pinneys of Orford.

Bill Pinney’s father started the business in Orford in 1959 and he has continued producing some lovely artisinal products ever since. Bill gave me a tour of his smoke house with sides of salmon hanging and trays of North Atlantic prawns being smoked ready for sale in their shop on Orford Quay, but also their restaurant. Pinneys smoked cods roe is some of the best I have ever tasted and I think that I must now conceed the crown for taramasalata to Irene - who makes ‘the’ best on the premises to sell in the shop – it is fabulous.

Smoked cold water prawns are another treat and I managed to get a tub of those - back to Kent cold enough and in one piece – to enjoy at home.

I highly recommend all of Bill’s products – beautifully packaged – they also do mail order too – so worth checking this out on line. Take a look at butleyorfordoysterage.co.uk for further details

Next blog will be on freezing fish – why frozen fish is often the ‘best’ standby and what to look out for if you buy frozen fish. We are also often asked about how to freeze fish at home – so more on that soon.