River Cottage HQ, Dorset: Day 3

River Cottage HQ, Dorset: Day 3



By Beth

Our third day at River Cottage was fish day – a day which I had been half looking forward to and half dreading! I’d never filleted fish before and I knew we were going to be doing a lot of that during fish day!

We were put straight to the test but instead of filleting, we were going to be killing our own crab! This definitely felt like a bit of a daunting task made even harder by the live crabs staring at me and blowing bubbles as our chef Joe showed us how to kill them! It seemed the best way was to just get stuck in and do it so after choosing my crab and checking that the claws weren’t going to nip me, that’s what I did. It was very quick and we were showed the best way to do it so the crab suffers the least pain, but I can’t say it was something I would do again. We placed our crabs back in the box to be boiled in a big pot for 10minutes ready for us to prepare them later.

Next we got onto our first filleting of the day with a Gurnard. I’ve eaten Gurnard before but never seen one whole and it is definitely quite a big and strong looking fish. We were shown to watch our hands for spikes running down it’s spine and fins and then shown how to fillet both sides of the fish. Then we picked out a fish and had a go ourselves. The first trick to filleting seemed to be having a very sharp filleting knife and secondly, you really need to feel where you’re cutting with your hands so you don’t cut away too much of the fillet. I managed to fillet the fish okay and was quite happy with the results however I did manage to nip myself on one of the Gurnard’s spikes. We then cling filmed our fillets and placed them in the fridge for later.

Next we filleted a lemon sole, which unlike the gurnard, is a very flat fish that is wet to touch. I thought this looked easier to fillet but I was wrong! My lemon sole turned out to be a bit of a disaster and even though the first fillet seemed to come away okay, the second was tiny and when I tried to skin them, my hands were just so wet and slimy from the skin that they ended up more like chunks of fish than fillets. I knew we were going to be breading them and frying them later so I decided I’d make the most of what I had and turn them into goujons!

For our final fish of the day we were filleting a mackerel and then learning how to smoke it. This was by far the easiest of the three fish for me but others in the class found it the hardest. The mackerel was very thick and it was easy to glide through it with a knife and turn it into two fillets. Joe then asked us to lay our fillets into a metal tray which contained metal racks, which we placed our fish on, and hay at the bottom. He then covered the whole thing with foil and placed it on an open coal BBQ where it was left to smoke for ten minutes.

We then went inside to learn how to make mayonnaise and tartare sauce. Mayonnaise is probably my most hated food so even though I knew I wouldn’t be eating any, I was looking forward to learning how to make it. I learnt it was all about whisking vigorously as you add the oil and we ended up with a nice thick and glossy mayonnaise. We then added chopped pickled cucumber (that we’d made on Monday), capers and herbs to make it into tartare sauce.

River Cottage Tartare Sauce

This was to serve with our lunch so we floured, egged and breaded our lemon sole and then pan-fried this in oil for a few minutes on each side and served them with our tartare sauce and cucumber pickle. I had lemon sole goujons, which were really tasty - just a little smaller than other cooks fillets!

After lunch we popped our smoked mackerel in vacuum bags in the fridge (after tasting it of course, which was the best smoked fish I’d ever had!) and then had to prepare our sourdough dough for the next day – bread and pastry day! The chefs had already put together the starter for the sourdough, which I knew was an essential part to have right before attempting to make a sourdough loaf. We took a spoonful of the starter and added some strong bread flour and water and mixed it altogether in a bowl before covering the mixture and leaving it to rise overnight.

We then had to prepare our crabs that we’d killed and cooked earlier. Firstly we pulled the legs off and then cracked the back open to take out the brown crab meat. We put this to one side and then using a bamboo skewer poked around the body of the crab to push out white crab meat. Using the back of our knives we cracked open the claw shells and pulled out all the white crab meat in those and put it all in a dish. Using some fresh herbs and lemon and adding these to a bowl with the brown and white crab meat, we then moulded this into a fishcake shape before flouring, egging and breadcrumbing it.

Setting our crab cake in the fridge, we took our gurnard fillets out to make Gurnard En Papillote. We finely sliced some carrots, chilli, ginger and coriander and placed these in the middle of a large piece of tinfoil before topping with the fish fillets and sprinkling over sesame seeds and a dash of soy sauce. We then sealed the tinfoil up into a parcel shape and baked in the oven for about 10minutes. Meanwhile, we fried our crab cake in some olive oil for a few minutes on each side.

And there was our second lunch – Gurnard En Papillote and Crab Cakes. Both were delicious with a really fresh taste from the fish and had been very easy to make. Fish day had been quite challenging but I was really glad I’d learnt how to fillet fish – even though filleting was perhaps too kind a word for my lemon sole!

River Cottage HQ, Dorset: Day 4

River Cottage HQ, Dorset: Day 4

River Cottage HQ, Dorset: Day 2

River Cottage HQ, Dorset: Day 2