Wild Thing! - Seafood - The perfect catch for a pub chef.

By Richard Fox

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Seafood Pub chef

Wild thing!… you make his heart sing! Richard Fox reveals why one of the few pure and natural resources left is the perfect catch for a pub chef....

Wild thing!… you make his heart sing! Richard Fox reveals why one of the few pure and natural resources left is the perfect catch for a pub chef.

Our approach to seafood in this country is something akin to making huge cash withdrawals from your bank account that you can't really afford and posting it to wealthy tycoons abroad that you don't even know. Pointless, senseless? I should say so.

In these days of over-processed, manufactured, E number-laden plastic produce, seafood is as pure and unsullied as the Virgin Mary herself. And we are quite literally surrounded by it. Sadly, the majority of the good stuff is off to Spain before it's even got sight of a quayside.

While we may look to hotter climates for their natural sun-ripening abilities with tomatoes, peppers and the like, the cold waters of our coastline are a haven for our molluscs, crustaceans and assorted sea life.

I can recall demonstrating a beer and mussel broth at a London food show to a bunch of New Zealanders. They were regarding my Isle of Skye rope-grown samples with that smirking, raised eyebrow derision of Crocodile Dundee appraising his penknife-armed mugger: "Call that a mussel?" I could sense them thinking, as they wistfully recalled their over-sized green-lipped variety.

"Trust me, these are British, and the best…" I taunted them as I spooned up my samples. Oh, how I revelled in that change of expression as they experienced the succulent, fresh sea flavour of those glorious bivalves. What's more, they're cheap as chips.

With the exception of salmon, a bit of sea bass and the odd cod, most fish is by definition, always wild. Not only is its availability and price subject to seasons, but also to climatic conditions, public holidays (for the suppliers, not the fish), and all manner of local conditions. Because of these variables, prices are subject to wild variations.

It's well worth forging a close relationship with a good fish supplier in order to get information "hot off the press" about what's in abundance and therefore cheap. To this end, specials boards are perfect to showcase your fresh and wild approach to seafood.

Seafood has the advantage over many foodstuffs as being incredibly good for you. Although crustaceans are high in cholesterol, they're also very high in protein, and natural goodness. There's also something visually enticing about a wet fish display - it's a positive tourist attraction in Harrods.

I recently visited a bar in London that had all its fish displayed on ice in front of the open kitchen - when a fish order came on, the chef simply leaned over the counter and plucked it from resting place - true gastro theatre.

On the subject of health: how many "vegetarians" do you know who do eat fish? In my experience, most of them; so put on a good fish range and you could find the hard-core carnivores outnumbered two to one. If you're going to embrace seafood for all it's worth, you could do worse than indulge in a little extra training. It's a source of consternation to me that many traditional chef skills are being lost, such as butchery and fishmongery.

Not only is it cheaper to buy fish "unprepared", but the trimmings can then be utilised for all manner of stocks, sauces and fish cakes.

Billingsgate fish market in London offers a selection of courses ranging from knife skills to City & Guilds qualifications. Details of all of these can be found at www.seafoodtraining.org

As far as the actual cooking is concerned, fresh seafood requires the shortest blast of stove heat. It is not like chicken or pork, which must be cooked all the way through. If this were the case for seafood, the Japanese population would have died out a long time ago!

I've always considered that over-cooking fresh fish should come under a similar legal category as "criminal damage". Not only is this quick cooking principle good from a taste perspective, it also applies to service. Fillets of fish need never be cooked until a table is called "away". Thus, there's no risk of spoilage due to over-resting under heat lamps, neither is the customer waiting for too long for their food to arrive.

If you really want to push the boat out, introduce a "seafood festival" to your gastro repertoire - lobster and shell-fish events work particularly well due to the upmarket, speciality food perception.

Use Scottish lobster if you can - it's a little more expensive than the Canadian variety, but the price differential isn't half reflected in the taste.

On the subject of lobster, I'd like to share with you one of the seminal moments in my culinary education. I can't tell you the number of times I've eaten lobster that would have served equally well as a squash ball. Well, not in my kitchen - thanks to a now well-known chef whom I knew when he was a mere chef de partie for Marco Pierre White.

He showed me that you should put enough salt in the pan of water until it tastes like seawater then bring it to a temperature just below boiling, where the bubbles are rising rapidly, and just beginning to break the surface of the water.

Put the lobster in for six minutes, remove and then immediately cover with cling film and steam for a further six minutes. I can guarantee the most flavoursome, juicy shellfish you have ever tasted.

It's well worth noting that seafood doesn't have to be an expensive, luxury item that you have to charge the earth for just to hit minimum margins. Coley is completely interchangeable with cod and is a fraction of the price. Plaice is interchangeable with lemon sole - particularly when cut into goujons, breaded and then deep-fried.

Fish can also form a small component part of a dish rather than being the main focus. This way, smaller quantities are used, but main course prices can still be charged quite legitimately - salmon nicoise salad is a classic example. Combine the traditional nicoise ingredients: new potatoes, green beans, hard-boiled egg, and then simply flake in some poached salmon and serve with a lemon-infused crème fraîche dressing for a delicious starter or main course.

Fish cakes are another perfect way to use up trimmings that would otherwise be thrown away. Add a balance amount of mashed potato, a load of fresh herbs and then simply panné in flour, egg wash and breadcrumbs. Now you've got the ingredients, menu and GP sorted out, it's time to tell all and sundry what a fabulous seafood emporium you have.

Try setting aside a blackboard just for those fishy menu items. It gives an impression of fresh on the day spontaneity, as well as giving you the opportunity to genuinely chop and change responding to whatever is cheap at the time.

Offer your customers drink suggestions to go with your seafood dishes, thereby giving the opportunity to increase wet sales as well as market your menu.

On the wine front, stick to good dry whites - petit chablis is relatively cheap, but the Chablis name offers high-perceived value.

Zesty wheat beers such as Hoegaarden, Erdinger and Franziskaner offer real points of interest as well as being perfect matches for seafood.

If you're a child-friendly pub, jump on the Jamie Oliver bandwagon and shout about the natural, health-inducing properties his wonderful natural resource has to offer.

Why not create a visually stimulating refrigerated wet fish display just for that element of pure theatre we all love from an open kitchen? And the kids will be fascinated by it too.

However, most importantly, cook seafood with care and accuracy and you can guarantee a fishy reputation that won't put people off.

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