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Thursday, September 28, 2006

Not for fish haters!


The main reason I took the Billingsgate course was that I have always felt intimidated by the idea of buying, preparing and cooking fish; I hoped that being shown exactly what needs to be done to a fish would give me confidence when faced with a fishmonger’s slab.
Yesterday I put this to the test, buying sea bream and accompanying ingredients , asking the fishmonger just to scale the fish (I did once own a fish-scaler but I only bought it because I didn’t know what it was and I lost it before I worked out its purpose - being keen on gadgets is not the same as having common sense).
Inspired by suggestions from CJ Jackson, director of the Billingsgate school, I thought I could do a vaguely South-East Asian arrangement of flavours, with chilli, ginger , coriander and sesame oil.
Gutting the fish turned out to be just as easy as it had been under supervision, which was a relief - I had worried that I might end up in tears with horrendously torn fish and fish guts disgustingly spread all over the kitchen as my knife turned out to be inadequate and the fish malevolently different from the tidy fish provided in the school. The fish slit easily down the belly, with only a little hitch at the breast bone, and the guts pulled out equally smoothly, heart and stomach and unidentifiable bloody thing all cossetted in a duvet of fish farm fat.
The only difference was that I realised that between the membrane that covers the bloodline and the fillet was a layer of white fat that could be squeezed away easily with a finger.
Wrapping them in circles of baking paper took some practice (I threw away a couple of metres of the stuff after making too much of a mess of it to retrieve) but I got there in the end. My only quibble, which may be due to a problem with my oven rather than the recipe, was that it took much longer than expected to cook, and then I think I may have overcooked it.
Nonetheless, the fish was delicious, full of flavour, melting off the bone, with the skin pulling away neatly and easily and the skeleton lifting beautifully off the fillet as a perfect cartoon fish with head intact and every bone articulated.
The school asked us to fill in a questionnaire at the end of the day that included the query ‘did this do what you expected?’ My answer must be a resounding yes!