Seafood cham­pion changes way we think about fish

Ella Walker spends the day with chef Si­mon Hul­stone and vis­its Brix­ham Fish Mar­ket

Belfast Telegraph - Weekend - - NEW YEAR FOOD - Si­mon Hul­stone has teamed up with Seafood From Nor­way (seafood­from­nor­way.co.uk) to de­mys­tify cook­ing sus­tain­able Nor­we­gian cod, had­dock and hal­ibut at home

We’re warned: walk into Brix­ham Fish Mar­ket in Devon while wear­ing green wel­lies and the like­li­hood is you’ll be met with farm noises. White and yel­low wel­lies are the way for­ward if you want to min­gle au­then­ti­cally in the chilly, early morn­ing world of the fish mar­ket, a-bus­tle with fish­er­men who drink to­gether on the week­end, but com­pete daily in the mar­ket.

How­ever, we are not pro­fes­sion­als, so in­stead, our guide James Mooney, from seafood whole­saler and fish sup­plier King­fisher Brix­ham, has us decked out in plas­tic slip-on shoe cov­ers, hair nets (very fetch­ing) and white coats, as though we’re about to en­ter a med­i­cal lab.

We’re here with chef and seafood cham­pion Si­mon Hul­stone, of Miche­lin-starred restau­rant The Ele­phant, which is found in his nearby home­town of Torquay.

We stalk be­tween crates of mot­tled Dover sole; inky lob­sters with their taped-up claws still try­ing to clack, huge slabs of tur­bot and box upon box of red mul­let which shim­mer crim­son and fuch­sia. “Chefs want the pink scales,” says Hul­stone, “but they get bat­tered when they’re caught.”

Most eerily, there are tubs con­tain­ing sev­ered, alien-like monk­fish tails, which his­tor­i­cally have been used as scampi (the deep-fried stuff you get at the pub). “The fish­er­men bring them in head­less be­cause the head is as big as the body,” ex­plains Mooney — and there’s not much to be made from the heads.

Mooney and Hul­stone talk fish trends (the fish­er­men are keen seafood trend fol­low­ers); how chef Tom Ker­ridge’s now fa­mous deep­fried brill and chips at Ker­ridge’s Bar & Grill — for a whop­ping £32.50 — is worth every penny (“It’s brill!” yelps Hul­stone), and why Bri­tish restau­rant-go­ers aren’t in­ter­ested in eat­ing ‘black gold’, aka cut­tle­fish, which, like a lot of crab, is bought up by other coun­tries.

Back at The Ele­phant, which Roux schol­ar­ship win­ner Hul­stone runs with his wife Katy, who man­ages the front of house, he demos three of his dishes, fil­let­ing hal­ibut, hake and cod in swift suc­ces­sion.

Hul­stone is a big sup­porter of Brix­ham but is also a ma­jor fan of — and am­bas­sador for — sus­tain­able seafood from Nor­way.

He has fewer than 10 peo­ple in his kitchen and con­sid­ers him­self the “con­duc­tor at the front”, while in­ter­est­ingly, his ap­pren­tice James, doesn’t even like eat­ing fish.

“I don’t like the way it’s made,” James ad­mits sheep­ishly, when quizzed over the car­cass of a glis­ten­ing hal­ibut. Hul­stone is work­ing on him though; putting peo­ple’s in­dif­fer­ence and dis­like of fish down to the

fact “bat­ter has blinded us”. “It’s an an­i­mal, it’s got to move, it’s got to live, it’s got to bleed — peo­ple for­get that,” ex­plains Hul­stone.

That said, he’s very strict on get­ting rid of any “uglies” — whether you’re cook­ing fish at homeor be­ing served it in a restau­rant.

“Al­ways check the in­side is re­ally nice and red, no smell,” says Hul­stone, reel­ing off what to look for when se­lect­ing a fish, ei­ther from your su­per­mar­ket or fish­mon­ger. “The less han­dling the bet­ter, or it de­grades.” And that icky fish slime? “That means it’s fresh.”

But don’t be put off buy­ing frozen fish. If the la­bel says ‘frozen at sea’ he ex­plains, it means the fish has been fil­leted and frozen on the boat — so it should end up be­ing con­sid­er­ably fresher than stuff that’s just been chilled and trans­ported back to the main­land.

“Peo­ple think it’s be­ing a cow­boy, freez­ing your fish,” he says. “It’s not, it ten­derises it — it’s ex­actly the same, even though it can seem like a cheat.”

And if you’re anx­ious about fil­let­ing your own fish, ask your fish­mon­ger to do it for you — even Hul­stone still gets ner­vous fil­let­ing, es­pe­cially when he’s faced with deftly slic­ing a three to four kilo sea crea­ture into 14 iden­ti­cally sized and shaped por­tions.

Slap­ping a fil­let of cod in a hot pan with but­ter sounds very much a dod­dle in com­par­i­son.

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