Macphail

The Oban Times - - LETTERS - AN­GUS MACPHAIL an­gus­macphail@ya­hoo.co.uk

GOOD food is one of life’s great plea­sures and I have long been ridiculed by most around me for the level of eu­pho­ria I ex­pe­ri­ence when eat­ing cer­tain culi­nary de­lights.

Among the myr­iad of sus­te­nance choices avail­able, my favoured genre is shell­fish and at the very peak of that moun­tain range of mouth­wa­ter­ing mag­nif­i­cence are three spe­cific items be­long­ing to dif­fer­ent an­i­mal parts of three well-known West Coast sea crea­tures.

So, in the style of one of Mac­beth’s witches, give me the tail of a fe­male lob­ster, the claw meat of a male brown crab and the clean white flesh of a scal­lop. There are some close con­tenders hot on the heels of these morsels of tan­ta­lis­ing taste per­fec­tion, but each one of these three can send me into a state of ec­stasy.

Alas, al­though we live sur­rounded by the crys­tal- clear wa­ters that bear these fruits, they are still re­mark­ably dif­fi­cult to ob­tain for the av­er­age con­sumer in Scot­land.

Most shell­fish landed on the West Coast go straight to the con­ti­nent, with Spain be­ing the most sig­nif­i­cant des­ti­na­tion. France and Portugal are big con­sumers and there are new mar­kets open­ing up in the Far East.

Iron­i­cally, it is eas­ier to get good qual­ity Scot­tish shell­fish if you are on hol­i­day in San­ti­ago de Com­postella in Spain than at home where the stuff is ac­tu­ally caught.

As well as be­ing the givers of bliss­ful plea­sure, these same items, when or­dered in a restau­rant, can cause se­vere dis­ap­point­ment. As hap­pens far too fre­quently, what you re­ceive is a poor ex­cuse for the dish that is be­ing sali­vated over in an­tic­i­pa­tion.

A sub­stan­dard scal­lop is not merely a poor ver­sion of what you ex­pect. It is like eat­ing a piece of mildly fish­flavoured rub­ber and bears no re­sem­blance to the taste and tex­ture of the same item if you had eaten it nearer the time it was caught – be­fore it had been soaked in wa­ter to in­crease the weight and then stored as long as pos­si­ble in a restau­rant or fish­mon­ger’s fridge, still safe to eat but sadly bereft of all the sweet suc­cu­lent nu­tri­tious at­tributes it once proudly held.

How­ever, there is light at the end of this frus­trat­ing tun­nel. More and more restau­rants are learn­ing how to store and cook shell­fish and, as a town, Oban can be proud in hav­ing been at the fore­front of this for many years.

Some ex­cel­lent fish­mon­gers are also bring­ing progress in mak­ing it more widely avail­able for cook­ing at home. Newly es­tab­lished shops – Iain Ste­wart Fish Sales in Fort Wil­liam and Na­mara (a branch of North Uist- based Kallin Shell­fish) in Glas­gow, as well as the much-loved and long- es­tab­lished Don­ald Watt and Sons in Oban and Loch Fyne Oys­ters in Cairn­dow are all places where high qual­ity of prod­uct is para­mount.

At the mo­ment, in terms of vol­ume landed, the do­mes­tic mar­ket for Scot­tish shell­fish is minute but, in time, the jew­els of our ocean will hope­fully gain their right­ful place high in our culi­nary hearts.

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