Fish is my least favourite food (closely followed by okra and cauliflower). The only difference between fish and the two vegetables I was force fed as a child is that I want to like fish. You see, I do like some fish – shorshebata ilish, Hyderabadi pomfret tikka, Goan fish curry. But ask me to grill/fry/bake/steam/poach/curry my own and the meal has always ended in (my) tears (and pizza out of a box).
It’s my Birthday Month and I have decided to gift myself – among other things – the love of fish. It’s a bit ridiculous to ban fish just because I haven’t learnt how to cook it properly. Turns out that all I needed was to spend a fish day with someone who loved fish, cooked fish, ate fish, and was quite a dish himself.
A chance meeting last year with lawyer-turned-chef Edward Smith (aka Rocket & Squash), somehow led to us spending a day together as teacher and student. In addition to writing a fantastic food journal, Ed also caters events and conducts private cooking tutorials in your own kitchen. Once I made him promise not to even try and make me like mackerel, the world was my oyster… urr, fish market. Careful consultations later we had the perfect Saturday planned. I had just given myself the first birthday present of the year – my first ever private cooking class.
Ed was going to pick me up at 6.20 am (he said he wasn’t a masochist and we didn’t have to get there for the usual 4 am start. I beg to differ.) He had warned me to wrap up, wear sensible shoes and be prepared for freezing smelliness of the Billingsgate Market, UK’s largest “inland” fish market. A few iPhone alarm mishaps, caffeine-deprived map reading, and road works related detours later – we were there!
You definitely smell it before you see it! I saw octopus, squid, lobster, and more varieties of fish than I knew existed.
Ed walked me through the stalls explaining the various seafood, teaching me what to look for, and even regaled me with stories about the market’s pet seal – Sammy. Once done with our shopping we popped into their café (so local; so fab) and stopped for a quick chat with one of the fishmongers.
We then drove to a less malodorous shop – the Chelsea Fishmongers. (I have a feeling I may visit Rex Goldsmith’s labour of love more often than the sprawling Billingsgate for my weekly fish supply.)
A few hours later we were in my kitchen. I even got my very own Rocket & Squash apron and a detailed fish prep manual and recipe booklet. The next two hours were not pretty – I learnt how to skin a fish, clean its guts out, fillet it and cut it in a few ways, always careful not to eat the eyes (they’re bitter you see). Ed was so patient with me – gently helping my knife skills along and filling the class with enough juicy cooking tips and tricks to keep me wide awake despite the ungodly start.
To add to the drama of our day my class was interrupted by pigeon coos. My heart nearly stopped as Ed suggested that the pigeon may be inside my spice cupboard. A hesitant search of my kitchen confirmed that the poor baby – now named Geoffrey by the chef – was stuck inside the chimney!
We had together cleaned and prepped salmon, lemon sole, sea bream and squid. We were finally at the part I was looking forward to most ! The next few hours were magical – Ed taught me how to create delicious meals from the simplest ingredients. He gave me a peek into his world of clever twists to standard recipes. We grilled, stewed, fried and poached our way through six mouth-watering dishes.
Braised squid with chorizo and butter beans
Grilled salmon with courgette and broad bean salad
Pan-fried sea bream with fennel and blood orange salad – my favourite!
He also taught me how to make the classic sole à la meunière with a brown butter and caper sauce; proper wilted spinach; and the most moreish side – creamed leeks, peas and pancetta.
The best thing about the man – he cleaned up after himself (and me)!
I loved this day so much! Ed let me take my time, answered every question, and gave me the confidence to go out the next day and buy more fish. I can now safely say, that fish is no longer my least favourite food.