3 November 2020 · Behind the Cookbook
“Do not fear the fish,” advises supper club host and author Kerstin Rodgers, aka Ms Marmite Lover, who has some simple tips for cooking fish – and rounds up her choice of ckbk’s top books on fish and seafood.
Pescatarianism is the healthy diet option that dare not speak its name in this era of puritanical eating – but I suspect that choosing to include fish and seafood in one’s diet while avoiding meat is more common than you might think.
I have been running my supper club ‘The Underground Restaurant’ in northwest London for the last 11 years. I ask guests to specify their dietary requirements when they book. Although the menu is always mostly vegetarian, I often serve a fish course. It's at that point I discover just how many ‘vegetarians’ also eat fish.
I class myself as a vegetarian who eats mostly vegan but has fish in certain circumstances – such as when I'm at a restaurant where the vegetarian options are decidedly second-rate or unimaginative, or if I'm travelling and the speciality of the country happens to be fish-based. Occasionally I crave the protein boost, delicate texture and umami flavour that fish can deliver, too.
Is it difficult to cook fish? In a word, no. One of the reasons I often include a fish course at my supper clubs because it's easier and quicker to make than prep-heavy vegetarian dishes.
My failsafe technique for cooking fish is ‘en papillote’ – wrap your fish in foil or baking parchment along with vegetables of your choice and, herbs, citrus or spices. This method works in the oven or on the barbecue.
Grilling is a healthy method of cooking fish suitable for thicker filets or whole fish. Baste with oil to prevent it from drying out.
A useful thing to have for cooking fish is a digital probe thermometer. Just insert the probe into the centre of the thickest part of the fish. When it reads 63ºC (145ºF), it's ready. If you don’t have a digital thermometer, you can use a metal skewer. Insert the tip into the centre of the fish for a moment, then press the skewer to your face, just above your chin, under your lip. If it feels hot, the fish is cooked.
Do not fear the fish.
Is there a country whose cooks know more about fish than Japan? The Japanese eat more fish per capita than any other nation. An Ocean of Flavor by Elizabeth Andoh, an American who has lived in Japan for 50 years, presents the topic of Japanese cuisine in a way that makes it accessible. She does have recipes for sushi such as éhō maki, but also quick-to-make dishes such as Lemon-Simmered Clams With Herbs.
In India, the southern state of Goa is famous for its seafood dishes. In his book How to Cook Indian, chef Sanjeev Kapoor has several suitably spicy Goan seafood recipes worth a try: Goan Shrimp Curry, Shrimp Peri Peri, and Shrimp Balchao.
And for Spanish, try Paella with Seafood from The Rice Book. The book’s author, Indonesian-born food writer Sri Owen, may not be Spanish but she is acknowledged as the expert on rice, according to The Guardian's food editor Bob Granleese.
Keith Floyd's TV shows are still shown today. Holding a tipple in one hand and jiggling a hot pan in the other, chatting to the cameraman while verbally jousting with a critical French housewife, Floyd was entertaining, cheeky and infected everyone with his love of food and wine.
His book Floyd on Fish features in many food writers' Top Ten. I love his unconventional recipe Trout in Newspaper, which can also be cooked on a campfire. First soak the newspaper thoroughly in water: when the paper’s cooked dry, the fish is ready!
Part of the joy of membership to ckbk is the serendipitous discovery of cookbooks that you may not know about, similar to browsing through a particularly well-stocked bookshop. I recommend the books on fish by the legendary British food historian Alan Davidson, author of the Oxford Companion to Food, an enormous compendium, a treasure hunt of food information, history and stories.
In Davidson’s North Atlantic Seafood, he has a recipe for a version surströmming, a kind of fermented herring from the Baltic, which he claims is “easy to make.” I've had this myself in Sweden and it’s definitely a Marmite experience: you either love it or you hate it. Alan recounts: “A Swedish naval officer told me that when they ate surströmming on board his ship the cans were always opened on deck, because of the smell.” It's the durian fruit of Scandinavia, for those with strong stomachs only.
If you want to try your hand at Roman-era cookery, one of the most important flavors was garum, a kind of anchovy sauce. If you are up for a taste of the past, Danish gastrophysicist Ole Mouritsen has three recipes for garum in his book Umami.
Good Things in England by Florence White is a classic British cookbook from the 1930s, prized by writers such as Felicity Cloake. Try White's recipe for the Anglo-Indian dish kedgeree. Australian cook and author Jill Dupleix has an excellent recipe for homemade fish fingers in Old Food. And the recipe for Fish ’n’ Chips in The Robert Carrier Cookbook by American-born chef, restaurateur and TV cook Robert Carrier is hard to beat.
British chef Ian McAndrew's classic A Feast of Fish, published in 1989, has just been added to the site. The book highlights local ingredients such as sorrel, which is a citrussy herb that pairs deliciously with fish, in a recipe for Pan-fried Salmon with Sorrel Sauce.
In Scotland, The Seafood Shack in Ullapool is run by Fenella Renwick and Kirsty Scobie. The pair won a BBC Radio 4 Food & Farming Award for Best Street Food or Takeaway for their straight-off-the-fishing-boat local produce. Find all 91 recipes from their newly published debut book The Seafood Shack: Food & Tales from Ullapool, winner of the Jane Grigson Trust Award 2020.