Saturday, 10 September 2011

Catch it, cook it, eat it!*

A trip to Cornwall gives me the opportunity to deviate from my musings on life in a proper eating establishment (not for long, fear not!) and to spend some time exploring regional foods. For what else is there to do on a late Summer holiday in Britain other than to shelter from the persistent rain and eat?

Holidaying near Padstow (or as N, and, it appears, many others, affectionately refer to it, Padstein) means fish is on the menu, lovingly snuggled between opportunities for a good Cornish pasty and a proper cream tea.

Firstly, those pasties. According to the lovely mother and daughter working at Polzeath Bee shop, a proper cornish pasty was a game of two halves, with a savoury filling on one side of beef, (NOT mince, shun proprieters who try to pass off anything other than big hearty chunks of tender steak with its accompanying peppery and rich gravy in your pasty) swede and potato, and a fruity filling on the other as dessert. They were early packed lunches for the miners. Naturally, a stay in Cornwall means you have to sample as many of these as possible (I'm writing this on the journey home and am pleased to report that the car is full of the heady aroma of the best pasties in the area, from Malcolm Barnecutt the baker, and there are another 8 handmade and frozen in a triple-wrapped and double-coat insulated bundle behind my head somewhere). I have taken the modern interpretation of the miner's packed lunch to be the surfer's reward, a hot pasty gobbled furiously after an hour and a half of being slapped in the face by 40 knot winds, alternately drowning in a wave, snorting seawater and having better (aka 'competent') surfers land on your head when you inadvertently bellysurf through their legs. Incidentally, I actually believe this takes considerable skill, but appreciate I may be alone in this. The enjoyment of food is inextricably tied into the circumstances in which it is enjoyed, and for me, a good pasty will now always remind me of cold water dribbling down my back and a salty tang on my lips from dunking too often in the sea. Look for handcrimping, and expect a reasonable price for proper steak and a nice peppery kick and you'll be alright.

As for cream teas, well, I could dedicate an entire post to these on their own. I appreciate that whilst a scone is a beautiful thing, it can cause tremendous upset as lifelong friends and passionate lovers wrangle over The Right Way To Prepare A Scone. N is the fiercest advocate of the art of Sconking and patented the term 'Fat Sandwich'. We Sconk with a homemade, warm scone (the texture should be somewhere along the lines of a good soda bread, not too crumbly as it needs to support the toppings, and not so dense that it adheres to the roof of one's mouth), either fruit or plain depending on your own taste, or lavender if you can. Whilst cheddar and marmite scones are a beautiful thing, they're not made for proper sconking so we will leave that to one side for the moment. Cut the scone in half (I hear that not everyone does this, which I find a shocking waste of topping opportunity) and add a reasonable layer of butter. This upsets many but I am a firm believer that a whisper of salt on the palate enhances sweet flavours, and besides, my blog, my rules. Then add your jam. A nice thick layer that threatens to escape if you don't demolish your scone quickly enough. And it must be strawberry, preferably home made - my last Sconking episode was not two hours ago and involved local honey-infused homemade strawberry jam and was delicious. I put my jam on first as a) I consider the clotted cream to be the crowning glory and b) I don't want anything turning pink, preferring to keep a bold white/red contrast.

Atop your jam goes the clotted cream. Clotted cream is made by heating full-fat cow's milk in steam or a waterbath and allowing it to cool in shallow pans, when clots of cream rise to the surface. It has the consistency of a thick unset custard, should have a delicate yellowy crust and be cold to contrast against the warm scone. The fact that many think aerosol cream will do makes me very, very sad. Eat quickly, with inappropriate groans, and a pot of proper tea such as Earl Grey on the side.

A seaside stay would not be complete without fish, and I'm glad to report that even my fish-fearing younger brother's conversion has begun. Dinner at The Seafood Restaurant in Padstein involved an enormous hot seafood platter, a seemingly bottomless turrine of bouillabaisse, a japanese take on hand-picked crab, juicy fat scallops and a variety of freshly caught and responsibly sourced fish. Confusingly, one of these was Brill, listed as one to avoid according to the Fish Fight, but having seen this appear on the menu in a number of local restaurants and enquiring after its provenance, I enjoyed it with a clear conscience. As I believe that if you can eat something, you should know where it came from and how, we decided to go fishing for our supper on our last day.

Fishing trips are not hard to find by the sea, and are an inexpensive way to have fun finding out where your dinner came from, as well as providing healthy competition with your holidaymates and a great sense of achievement and pride in your food. And it turns out that mackerel are easy to catch by the dozen, particularly for first-timers like myself who managed to catch three at once!

They don't need bait and aren't particularly fussy about the depth of the water. As oily fish, you can smell their oils as they leave the water, but as with anything fresh from the sea, this is not a strongly 'fishy' smell, which is instead an indicator that the fish is not at its best. My early post on fish describes how to prepare the fillets, and whilst this should perhaps be done indoors, mackerel can easily be cooked on a campstove on the beach. Mackerel's meatiness can handle stronger flavours and is wonderful fried. Try adding some roughly-chopped garlic cloves and torn bay leaves to shimmering-hot olive oil before adding mackerel fillets, skin-side down, on top. Wait for the fillets to become nearly entirely white before turning them over to finish on the flesh side for one minute, remove and drizzle with a squeeze of lemon and serve with new potatoes or hunks of bread and a simply-dressed tomato salad. Your nouveau-caveman meal will taste all the better for knowing that you caught the fish yourself.

*Note to readers: whilst I appreciate that it is not possible to 'catch' a scone, or a cornish pasty, the message is the same: know where your food is from and eat local, and it will taste better, I promise.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks also to Rodney and co whose expertise at the helm of the fishing boat, and detangling lines, got us safe back to shore as the fishing time was up :( but with dire warnings of the storms to come - see Monday's weather reports! Freshest fish ever - yummmm! Ps Love the wellies!