Suffolk on a plate
Stephen David serves his catch of the day
This month, as always, I’m really in the mood for seafood. It’s healthy, tasty and flexible, more or less suitable for every meal and occasion.
Simple lunches call for delicious local shellfish, steamed or boiled for a few minutes, ready to dip into rich garlic butter, or home-made mayonnaise, perhaps complemented with some blanched shore vegetables, such as samphire or sea purslane. All you need is a colourful salad, or dressed leaves, and a warm loaf fresh from the oven.
Spring means early lemon or Dover soles, with buttered new potatoes and the first tender asparagus spears. Summer is all about a seafood barbecue. In winter a zingy seafood curry is hard to beat.
Although we have good, independent fishmongers all over the county, their shops are becoming harder to find. Rising wholesale fish prices, increasing rents and wages, combined with competition from supermarkets, mean it is only really viable for the busier, larger ones to continue in business.
But I urge you to support local fishmongers in preference to the major supermarkets. Their products might not be as cheap as what’s on offer in the big stores, but that little bit extra is well worth the effort.
Remember, a good fishmonger’s shop should never whiff when you walk in. Fish should only smell fresh, so if you come across a stinky fish counter, then it’s selling stale produce and should be well avoided.
One of the best fishmongers locally is Chris Wightman’s Maximus Fish Shop near
Saxmundham. The simple frontage belies the interesting range and high quality of fish and shellfish showcased on ice inside, as well as his awesome array of home-smoked seafood.
The Wightman family’s fishing heritage and links to the Suffolk coast go back four generations. Chris first worked aboard his father Terry’s boat, the 60ft former trawler Semper Victoria, in 1992, on leaving school. Then, in 2004, he and his brothers bought the Maximus, a pioneering long-liner boat, and one of the few new vessels to dock in Lowestoft in recent decades.
But Chris saw a positive business opportunity in the prime quality of their catch, and in the strong environmental message of fish being caught on baited hook, rather than in harmful trawler nets. First he experimented with selling direct to the public at events such as the Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival. Seeing the enthusiastic demand, he swapped his fisherman’s life on the ocean waves for one on dry land as a fishmonger. Ten years ago he opened a brand new fish shop at the Blyth family’s destination Friday Street farm shop, just off the busy A12, west of Aldeburgh.
Good fishmongers, such as the Wightmans, do all they can to focus on day boat fish, long-lined or drift-netted, preferably locally. They complement this with fish not from East Anglian harbours, but carefully sourced from other UK ports further afield. A visit to Maximus Fish, to meet Chris and buy his seafood, is well worth a trip out, if you don’t live in, aren’t already visiting this part of east Suffolk. Ice packs are given free for the journey home. You’ll find him on the A1094 road to Aldeburgh, where it meets the A12 just north of Farnham and Stratford St Andrew.
To celebrate the delights of local Suffolk fish, I share here one of my staple seafood recipes, a simple crisp-topped fish pie, straightforward for a midweek family supper, perhaps mixing in carrots and petit pois peas for a one-pot dish, but also perfect for an autumn dinner party. Try it glammed up, replacing the potato mash with pureed celeriac and cauliflower, and sprinkled with gremolata (finely-chopped lemon zest, garlic and flat leaf parsley), alongside roasted Jerusalem artichokes, purple sprouting broccoli and braised fennel.
Maximus Fish, Friday Street Farnham, near Saxmundham IP17 1JX , maximusfish.co.uk
Mackenzie-David Events Event director Rebecca Mackenzie, chef-director Stephen David
T: 01986 893991 email@example.com
ABOVE: Chris Wightman, owner of Maximus Sustainable Fishing, at his shop at Friday Street Farmshop.
Suffolk fish pie