Counting fingers, 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9 white ones and 1 blue one. A blue one? Yes folks, clumsy as ever, on my first morning at a Seafood Cookery Course, on the very first task, I cut my finger open whilst chopping a carrot. A carrot! Gah! I’ve chopped carrots lots of times before. Why now? For shame. This so called enthusiast and obsessive cook sliced her finger open on the first morning of the course. Nothing to worry about though, I stayed calm in the face of my finger going numb, for fear of further embarrassment, and Mrs. H had my finger sorted in no time at all, until it was shiny and new and bright, bright blue with a spangly and enormous blue kitchen plaster.
What am I rambling about? Last week I had the pleasure of attending a Seafood Cookery Course at the Tante Marie Cookery School in Woking, a cookery school with a fine pedigree that has been open for the last 50 years. Endorsed by el Gordo himself, I was invited there to do a 2 day lifestyle course on Seafood Cookery, but they also do lots of other more intensive courses like a year long Cordon Bleu diploma.
Why seafood? It’s the chink in my culinary armour. I love fish, and I know how to cook it, what evades me, or what I avoid is the gorey prep that dealing with fresh whole fish involves. It’s very important to have an honest and open relationship with your food, to know where it comes from, and to be able to deal with that. In this case that meant going from whole fish to fillets, making stock with the heads (having chopped the heads off and removed the eyes yourself), understanding how to gut and scale, and what to do with it after.
There are many rambling childhood paranoias and phobias that account for this – mainly I hated fish, how they looked, how they smelled and how they felt, after a childhood friend slapped me across the face with a rotten fish when I was tiny for a joke. True story. Funny now, but horribly traumatic then.
How was it? Very good. We had a slow start as the fish delivery was delayed, but once we got started we were off with a bang. All dishes are demonstrated by the chef in a demonstration kitchen, then we would decamp in small groups to two training kitchens to reproduce them ourselves, and either have them for lunch or take them home for consumption later. The training chefs were very friendly and approachable, and the school itself is charming. On the first afternoon a fishmonger came in with a shops worth of fish and talked us through them with some demonstrations. Very informative indeed, but what I really loved was the hands on cooking.
- a bouillabaisse with rouille made entirely from scratch, from a platter of fish we conjured a homemade broth from fish heads and assorted extras, which the cooked fish was served with, as tradition would have, in a platter next to it, topped off with homemade rouille whipped up from potato and egg. This I really loved, even more than the bouillabaisse.
- Scallops shucked by our fair hands, pan fried and served with a clever and very simple courgette spaghetti
- Home Cured Salmon with sea salt, sugar, pepper & spices – a simple and very nice dish
- Sole Meuniere, simple but sensational
- the best looking dish was a Terrine of Skate with Gherkins, Carrots and Sushi Nori
The course is not cheap at £325 for 2 days, but it is worth it. One clever student had a dinner party on the last night and fed his guests spoils from the course including bouillabaisse and taramosalata – clever!
All dishes are reproducible at home – although the Bouillabaisse is an effort and one to make only for several people. Tante Marie have kindly allowed me to blog some of them here for your pleasure, which I will over the coming week or so.
The first recipe is one of my favourites, the deceptively simple pan fried scallops with sesame dressing and courgette spaghetti. You can shuck the scallops if you want, I just get my fishmonger to do it and ask to take the shells home too. I am happy now that I know how to do it, but I’m lazy and a good fishmonger is hard to beat.
Londoners: Shellseekers in Borough Market sell hand dived scallops for ~£1.50 each. Delicious and worth every penny.
Pan fried scallops with sesame dressing and courgette spaghetti
1 small courgette
1tbsp rice vinegar
1½tbsp sunflower oil
½tsp sriracho chilli sauce (optional)
1tbsp toasted sesame seeds
1tbsp chopped fresh ginger
1tbsp dark soy sauce
1tbsp toasted sesame oil
Garnish: a handful of shiso leaves
sea salt and black pepper
Cut the courgette into spaghetti on a mandolin, sprinkle with salt and leave in a sieve for 20 minutes.
Open, clean and prepare the scallops. Wash and reserve 1 shell for garnish.
Stir the remaining ingredients together to make a dressing.
Season and pan fry the scallops in a hot pan for 1-2 minutes on each side.
To assemble: place the courgette spaghetti in the scallop shell, place the scallops on top and drizzle over the sesame dressing.
Garnish with a few shiso leaves.
Recipe courtesy of Tante Marie Cookery School – for further info and for details on courses see http://www.tantemarie.co.uk/