The welcome resurgence of interest in food in Britain after the onset of culinary dark ages after the war mean that you can now find artisan producers of every imaginable foodstuff; and the internet, freezer packs and overnight delivery mean that pretty much anybody around the country can get hold of anything they want, as long as they know of the existence of the producer.
And for the small producer that’s the difficult bit. The growth of SEO, social media and similar marketing channels does make it easier for small producers to get their name out in front of possible clients, but even so it’s not obvious to people interested in food as to where the best artisanal and small scale producers can be found.
To help people discover local produce and producers, the Food Travel Company run trips both within the UK and internationally; their trips can focus on touring a number of local producers or learning new cooking techniques. We were asked onto their Seafood Safari, in Cornwall. Unfortunately, we had to miss the first day of fish cookery, but arrived at Lanyon Cottages – the base for our trip – late on the Thursday night.
Lanyon, near Hale, was a delightful place to stay. Cottages is a slight misnomer – the manor house itself can sleep twelve, with the attached Coswyn Barn where we were staying sleeping fourteen, in seven bedrooms. The kitchen/dining room is both huge – with a table large enough for all – and inviting, and also idea for the cookery demonstrations. Both buildings have been very sympathetically restored so that they’re both comfortable and inviting, the perfect place for a family party, sadly it was not warm enough to use the beautiful pool.
Lee Groves, of the Seagrass restaurant in St Ives, gave two masterclasses. We were delighted to be able to attend his second class on seafood.
What was made obvious in the class is how fast and easy cooking seafood can be. We started with some Thai mussels – a nice change from the standard moules mariniere. Cooking was simple: Lee fried off some diced peppers, onions and garlic, added the mussels with some Thai curry paste and some fish sauce, and then just let the mussels steam.
These were followed by a simple, spicy fish soup, made with tomatoes that had been cooked down and blitzed. Again, by keeping the cooking simple, Lee made excellent use of the top quality ingredients to produce a delicious dish.
Then came two plates of fruits de mer. one hot, and one cold. The hot plate was simply covered with a parmesan and herb crumb and placed in the oven for a few minutes. This was a great success: the addition of the extra flavours to the gently cooked oysters lifted them to great heights. I hadn’t tried razor clams before, but in both raw and cooked form they were lovely: meaty but retaining that salty essence of the sea, which is the reason to eat seafood.
We had been put to work on the oysters, each of us having a go at the mysterious art of shucking. It is a tricky one – you feel that there’s great danger in slipping and plunging the knife into your thigh, resulting in Monty Python-esque fountains of arterial blood staining the ceiling. Or, if you’re lucky enough not to do a reasonable attempt at self-dismemberment, you’ll snap the blade, or the oyster, or any number of other possible disasters will strike. However, I have to say that it’s really not that difficult. There is a knack to it, getting the lift and twist motion correct, but it’s really not something to inspire fear. It just requires practice. Oh dear. What an absolute pity. Time to lay in a crate of Chablis, I think.
The crowning glory of both plates were the lobsters and crabs. We learnt how to cook and prepare crabs – killing them before cooking with a knife to the brain, whilst lobsters are plunged upside down into the boiling water. One of our lobsters was almost too big to eat – Lee thought he was probably about thirty five years old, and it would have been better to put him back once caught, but once they’ve been out of the sea for a while they lose too much condition to be returned. He was, however, feisty, despite having spent a couple of hours in the fridge, and wasn’t keen on letting go of Lee once he’d caught hold.
Once the crab and lobster were cooked, all the relevant nasties were removed – lady fingers, guts, intestines etc. For the lobsters, the tail meat was swapped between shells, right for left and vice versa, for improved presentation. Then simply onto the plate and we started eating.
As delightful ways of spending an afternoon, sitting in the sun knocking back a crisp white while working our way through an acre of the absolute freshest fruit de mer takes some beating. And having learnt from Lee just how simple it can be to produce such a feast – if you can get your hands on the quality of raw ingredient required – added to the enjoyment of the afternoon, and the likelihood of a repeat.
Next morning we had a visit from Paul of the 108 Coffee Shops in Truro, who brewed some excellent coffee to kick start our morning. The main thing I found from our discussion with Paul was how much coffee benefits from being brewed with water which has been allowed to cool from boiling point. He used individual cup drip filter cones to brew cups with excellent clarity of taste and no bitterness.
Overall, our weekend was a great success, very enjoyable and informative. The visit to the Newlyn fish market opened our eyes to the back-story of the fish in our shops, and with Lee’s excellent tutelage the likelihood of cooking more fish and seafood ourselves has risen immensely.
Fuss Free Flavours was the guest of the Food Travel Company. Many thanks for a lovely trip.
Prices for the break consisting of eight hours of fish teaching, Newlyn Harbour Tour, Fishing Trip, three nights’ accommodation, all food & drink while at the accommodation, and a ‘You Travel Day’ for you to go off and explore a local festival or the other wonders of Cornwall. £1,065.