Learning to cook with an eye on fish stocks

I blitzed an ugly looking gurnard in to a matt grey smoothie base for a fish soup the other night. Curmudgeonly head, eyes, bones, the lot. It’s not something I do at home. Sadly, I’m more likely to unwrap a miserly slab of supermarket fish from its cellophane tray. But I was on a cookery course that focused on sustainable seafood at London’s Cookery School. And one of the things I like best about cookery courses is indulging in practices that I wouldn’t normal bother with at home.

We were a small evening class and after an introduction and overview of at least ten different fish and types of seafood laid out in front of us – and tips that included how to remove the intestinal tract from the back of a tiger prawn and how to clean mussels – we each picked a recipe card from the fridge door. There were fish cakes, fish pie, tea smoked mackerel fillets and horseradish sauce, grilled mackerel with pears, port and preserved ginger and fried herrings in oatmeal, usually served with gooseberries but in keeping with the seasons served with vibrant pink rhubarb. I landed the soup.

It was a grisly business of boiling down the whole gurnard and leftover fish bones then crunchily processing them and sieving, more than once. I simplify, but eventually we added the dense fish stock to golden onions and tomato passata and after playing around with seasoning produced a very tasty soup indeed.

You are always in good hands at the Cookery School – the principal Rosalind Rathouse and her super efficient team are never far away to rescue a recipe or dispense a handy tip. Although you only master one hands-on recipe, you get regular updates on what the other students are doing. The cooking is not prescriptive; there’s a refreshing inclination towards the experimental, a welcome nod to health (some cookery schools just go bananas with the salt and butter in an easy bid to make a dish taste nice) and the school’s staff recognises that “we all have our own way of doing things”.

To round off the evening we sat down to a fish feast of all the dishes prepared and complimented each other on our achievements, while Roz took questions and shared details about the Sustainable Restaurant Association, of which the Cookery School is the only cookery school signed up as a member.

Cookery School runs a number of Scrumptious and Sustainable cookery courses including Know Your Fish (2 hours 15 mins, £100)

Click here for more fish and seafood cookery courses in the UK


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