Dress to impress: learning to prep properly at Fish
What to do on a balmy Tuesday night in Hove…stroll along the prom? Grab a drink at a seafront bar? No; neither. We opted to head for Fish, the fantastic local fish shop right by Hove Lagoon where previously I had only popped in to buy exceptionally fresh fish and shellfish, but where you can now spend a couple of hours learning how to dress, shuck and fillet like a pro. Armed with nothing but knives, picks and some sort of basher to crack crab legs, they let us loose on lobsters and this is what happened.
Having lived in Hove for over seven years, I had never known that Fish did fish preparation courses. The opposite of when you see a flyer for a ‘too good to be true’ summer fete, seemingly packed with activities and entertainment, but that turns out to be little more than an unstable trestle table and a tombola, the only specifics I had seen on Fish’s website about their fish prep course is that the cost includes a free oyster knife. But, actually, they need to be less modest – I came home having learned so many really handy techniques and armed with a glorious piscine picnic that included an entire dressed lobster, a packed pot of spider crab meat, fresh oysters and two huge fillets of monkfish. And the knife, obviously.
The whole set-up is really relaxed and inviting. Taking place on the shop floor – after all of the day’s fishy fodder has been sold (and it will have been sold; anyone who’s ever come over all James Martin having watched Saturday Kitchen and been inspired to recreate an overcomplicated fish dish requiring clams will know – Fish is renowned for the quality and variety of its stock and people flock to buy it, especially at weekends), the layout is simple. Gathered around one long table, divided by wipe-clean chopping boards and with two large containers in the centre in which to chuck your shells, bones and other bits, there were nine of us, all beginners, along with Jason, who stood at the head prepping as he taught.
Calm and collected, Jason is a natural teacher with a warm and friendly nature; his instructions were clear and the skill with which he ably dressed his lobster was contagious. Before we knew it, we’d each packed up our whole dressed lobster and had moved onto spider crab prep. For me, this was the most fun and informative part of the evening as before the course I’d have had zero idea where to even begin. I didn’t know crabs’ legs were best removed at the high, knuckle-type joint that connects their legs to their body; I didn’t know that they had removable gills; and I certainly didn’t know that behind their eyeballs at the top of their shells sits lots of plump, delicious meat. Crabs cheeks maybe? A new one for me.
Being a huge fan of oysters, it was much to my delight that Jason then produced an enormous tub of oysters and suggested we take as many as we like. I definitely had eight, maybe nine, which I shucked as per instructions and guzzled where I stood. There is something immensely satisfying in learning to find the ‘sweet spot’ in an apparently clamped-shut oyster shell, which, when you prize it gently, pops the rest open revealing the meaty goodness inside. Satisfying further still is that I’m now unafraid to prepare oysters myself; I recently went out to a restaurant and ate a dozen for £2.50 each. They sell them at Fish for 60p a piece: enough said.
Learning to fillet the oh-so-ugly monkfish is a useful life lesson I’m glad we learned too, and I soon forgave it its unfortunate face as my family tucked in with a chorus of ‘mmm’s at dinner later that night. Me? I had the lobster. All of it. With a cold, crisp glass or two of Sauvignon Blanc. Whether you’re a budding chef, a prolific dinner party host, or, like me, someone who just wanted to gain kitchen confidence where the creatures of the sea are concerned, please go to one of these courses. It was fun, informative and worth every penny.
Fish (Brighton & Newhaven Fish Sales)
Basin Road South