Min size for a king prawn… Take a deep breath

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From: graham@xxx.com
Sent: 17 January 2014 11:36
To: yourfishguy@thefishsociety.co.uk
Subject: King Prawns

Good Morning the Fish Society
I have just discovered your excellent web site and I have already e-mailed your PDF catalogue to my son in the UK.
As you are undoubted experts in  fish I wonder if you can help me please ?
I am in discussion with a leading UK supermarket over the size of the “King Prawns” in one of their pre-cooked curry meals.
We live in France and are used to having prawns sold by the size calibre, as I am sure you will know.
The prawns in the curry were curled up, on their side, nose to tail, resembling a coin. The diameter of each was approx 2.5cm /1 in. They were described as “King Prawns” on the packaging.
We bought ordinary prawns in our local French Supermarket, and they were approx 3.5 cm diameter.

So what in the UK constitutes a King Prawn ? As in the description on your site, I was expecting something similar to a Dublin Bay/Tiger Prawn. Is the size widely variable and is it based on a quantity per kilo ?
I would appreciate any info you can possibly give me please.

Many thanks
Graham D

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Hello Graham
Quick reaction:
1)    The French are much more sophisticated about fish than the Brits so French supermarkets can take fewer liberties
2)    The term king prawn is used as a catchall for several species of prawns – typically the prawns grown in SE Asia (and elsewhere especially S America). (It would not properly be used foir Dublin Bay prawns which are an altogether different item.)
3)    The legal definition of king prawn in the UK is:
King prawn: This description can only be used where the prawns are of the species and size given below:-
o all species of the family Palaemonidae
o all species of the family Penaeidae
o all species of the family Aristaeidae
Where the count is:-
less than 123 per kg (head on/shell on) or
less than 198 per kg (head off/shell on) or
less than 242 per kg (head off/shell off) …. that would be 4 grams per prawn…
I would expect that your one inch king prawn would on this basis come in as a king prawn.
I would say that needing to point to the legal definition of a KP rather than the common sense definition is not going to do one’s reputation much good, and the UK supermarket is having a laugh, but most UK consumers are not going to get too worked about it.
Hope that helps.
James Smith

Read about us in The Guardian Thursday 14 November

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Last week The Fish Society was contacted by none other than The Guardian newspaper about a planned feature on unusual cuts of fish.

Of course we were delighted to oblige, having been extolling the virtues of nose-to-tail eating for many years. It’s no surprise to us that the like of monkfish liver, fish heads and cod roe are appearing on more of your plates. And it’s not just because these cuts represent fantastic value; they taste great and jammed-packed with ϋber-amounts of vitamins and minerals, of course, they have plenty of health benefits too.

guardian_screenshot

Well done, Lizzie Enfield for spreading the word. Read the full article here

One fish, £1,000

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Delighted to report that we’ve just had the most fantastic halilbut delivered. It was landed on the west coast of Scotland yesterday morning. A few hours later – after just a little bit of negotiating – we said ‘yes’ to the most expensive single fish we have ever bought – we paid a nice round £1,000. It weighs 80kgs (so all you fish professionals can go work that out). It’s 66 inches nose to tail and boasts a magnificent sheen and two beautiful, accusing, eyes. Now how do we lift it onto the filleting bench…?DSC01612

Can’t win em all

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From: James Smith
Date: Thursday, 1 August 2013 16:56
To: Kristian W
Subject: lobsters for your birthday

Hello Kristian

Thanks for your enquiry. Normally we offer only whole frozen lobsters. However we would give your order the following special treatment.

I can’t find a supplier who is willing to commit to having 15 lobsters of the size you desire next week. So following is on basis of us supplying EITHER

30 x 700g fish OR 15 x 1400g fish.

These are cooked weights, which are smaller than live weights.

The lobsters would be delivered to us live from the coast next Wednesday. We would cook them on the Wednesday. On the Thursday, we would split them for you, wrap them individually and despatch them to you with under sealed ice gel packs.

So they would arrive fresh, not frozen, on the Friday. You would keep them in the box in which they arrived until serving. There would be plenty of gel ice in the box to keep them chilled until needed.

To provide 30 perfect servings, you would need in our view 35 to 40 servings to select from. This is because some lobsters are imperfect (too little meat, etc) but you only know this when they have been split. We would cook sufficient lobsters on the Wednesday to be sure you had 30 perfect servings.

Our website price for a 1400g cooked lobster is £46/kg. (To get a 1400g cooked lobster, you need to start with a 1550g live lobster.) The nominal price for your order would therefore be £966 (15 x 1.4 x £46). For this large order, we would charge you £890 including delivery.

For 700g lobsters we charge £42 per kg. Our delivered price in this instance would be £850. The discount is smaller as there is a lot more work in the splitting.

We would need to know whether you wanted the claws whole or shelled. Shelled claws would be positioned in the cleaned lobster’s head. We would recommend this. If necessary, we can fine tune the dates and weights set out above.

Looking forward to hearing from you.

Yours

James Smith

++++++++++++++++++++++

From: Kristian W
Sent: 01 August 2013 16:59
To: Aames Smith
Subject: Re: lobsters for your birthday

No thanks that’s way overpriced by 500 !!

We love ‘em

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From: Marjorie
Sent: 26 July 2013 02:57
To: jamessmith@thefishsociety
Subject: I dunno…

I’ve lost track with you people a bit. I’ve had some good stuff from you in the past, when I’ve been feeling a bit extravagant (mainly smoked products). But giant crab claws that you can cut with scissors as one of your highlighted offers makes me want to dive to the bottom of the rock pool.

To me, it’s a horrible market that you appear to be aiming at. The bling-bling but can’t be arsed sort of people.

I wish you didn’t. Certainly your promo e-mails haven’t inspired me to look any further for a good while now.

===============================

From: James Smith
Sent: 26 July 2013 11:12
To: Marjorie
Subject: RE: I dunno…

Hello Denise

I enjoyed reading this. It rather has the look of a three in the morning rant. No offence intended.

We’re always pushing those giant crab sections because we have a huge ongoing stream of them. They are a bi-product from a much more popular product. We’ve already brought the price down to the bargain basement, but they also need a lot of promotion to move them in the quantities in which we necessarily accumulate them.

However, Marjorie, we do sell another 300 items including those you like and indeed we feature these too in our marketing emails.

Nevertheless, we’ll take a rain check on our emails to make sure we are not overlooking the could-be arsed.

All the best

James Smith

Working late

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7pm. Brring Brring. Hello. Do you sell live lobster?

- No. We only sell frozen.

OK. Sorry, bye bye.

7.05pm. Brring Brring. Hello. Do you sell live lobster?

- You just asked me. In fact, although we don’t normally sell live lobster, we had a shipment in today and we were going to cook them tomorrow. I suppose I could pull some out for you. When did you want them?

[Without a trace of irony.] They are for dinner tonight.

- Hmm. And how were you going to get them?

I’ll send a driver.

- Where are you?

I am in Surrey. Where are you?

- Also in Surrey.

Hmmm. Before we go on, can you confirm that at 7o’clock tonight you decided you wanted live lobster for dinner tonight. Without the slightest idea of the challenge you were undertaking.

- What challenge? I found them didn’t I? How much are they?

The perfect paella

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Having just spent the best part of an hour revising our paella recipe, I must share it with you. I have cooked this to great acclaim many times (golly what a boast) but I reckon the results are still improving, aided in part by others. Notably my friend Anne-France who explained in her beautiful Franglais that I should drop the chicken breast we used to include in our paella kit in favour of a different part of the chicken which included some serious skin, as the skin really contributed to the flavour. We then upset all our regular customers by swapping to chicken wings – oh dear – too much skin, not enough meat. So we graduated onto chicken “thighs” from a top quality catering butcher. Just the job, I reckon, except that the skin has a tendency to slip away when you’re chopping the thighs up as one thigh has to be split between two (2-serving) paella packs. One day I’m sure I’ll solve that problem too.

More recently I realised that to solve the problem of the whole prawns taking too long to cook, when nestled in the top of the paella at the shellfish adding stage, I should boil them quickly for two minutes to cook them to perfect pink before adding them to the paella.

BenM pae cropped

Anyway, I’m really proud of this recipe.

1 Fish Society paella pack for 2

contains best Spanish paella rice, saffron, clams, mussels, king prawns, squid, monkfish, chorizo sausage and chicken

You’ll also need:
1/3 red pepper
1 small garlic clove
1 lemon
1 medium onion
Half tin of chopped tomatoes
20ml / 1 tbsp olive oil
½ level tsp paprika
Salt & pepper
1 glass dry white wine

1 Defrost paella pack, ideally overnight in fridge. Open each bag and drain. You might want to cut some pieces smaller. Open each clam with a quarter twist of a blunt knife. Season chicken and monkfish. Chop onion and garlic finely. Deseed pepper and chop into strips. Soak saffron in a glass of white wine.
2 Gently heat olive oil in large frying pan. Brown chicken, remove.
3 Cook onions until opaque. Stir in rice, garlic, paprika, red pepper, tomatoes, saffron and its soaking liquid. Bring to boil, reduce to simmer and stir for 5 mins until liquid absorbed.
4 Add further ¼ pint boiling water, plus wine, squid, monk, chicken, sausage (and snails if using). Keep to a simmer for 5 to 10 minutes. Stir gently a couple of times. IT MUST NOT BOIL. You want the rice to be pretty substantially cooked at this point. Give it a little longer if necessary.
5 Bring a medium pan of water to the boil then add the king prawns. Remove as soon as they turn pink (about two minutes – precision-cooking these large prawns gets a better result than cooking them in the paella).
6 Arrange clams, mussels (shell-side up, initially) and prawns on top of the paella. Cover with foil, cook 5 mins. Now check it over. Ideally the mixture should be moist but not runny. Cook a little longer if necessary, bearing in mind that it would be better to have a slightly runny mixture than to overcook the fish! Turn mussels over and serve with lemon wedges.
Variations: add green beans or peas (at step 5) or whitebait (fry separately, add at last minute).

 

 

40 fish skewers and the catwalk alternative

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Hi Antonia

Thanks for your call about the 40 fish skewers for your BBQ. There are quite a few alternatives.
If you want to stick to scallops, peeled prawns and monkfish, it’s going to cost between £115 and £200 all in (including delivery). This is for a skewer with 85g of 100% edible  fish on it.

The cheaper option is not “worse fish”. It’s the same fish but it’s generally smaller.
Eg, the £115 option has two “medium” prawns (our medium is a pretty good size).
For about twice as much, you could have a “WOW!”-sized prawn.
Same goes for scallops and monk.

Personally, I’d go for the cheaper option because the skewer will look more like a skewer and less like a catwalk. Two smaller prawns occupy more skewer space than one WOW prawn.
Give me a call and I’ll talk you through it.

YOU SHOULD ALSO consider our cheeks and misshapes section. There are many kinds of fish on there which are absolutely perfect for skewers. I reckon you could come in for about £80 on this option.

James

I’m putting my notes here for reference when you call

pack code

approx pack weight

number of fish or fish pieces per pack

skewers per pack

weight of this fish on the skewer

# packs

cost per pack

cost of this item

SKEWER 1
Peeled king prawns – medium Decent size – 2 prawns per skewer

140567

780

90

40

20

1

  16.90

       16.90

monkfish cheeks nice pieces of fish but not “perfect skewer cubes”

101405

200

variable

6

33

7

     8.80

       58.67

scallop quarters

102455

200

variable

6

33

7

     5.90

       39.33

86

    114.90

SKEWER 2
Peeled king prawns – XL large prawns – one per skewer

140575

780

36

36

22

1.30

  23.90

       31.07

monkfish fillet Whole fillet to cut yourself. You will get closer to “perfect skewer cubes”

235040

270

1

10

27

4

  15.60

       62.40

American roeless scallops large scallops – one per skewer 155420 and nearby

230

6

6

38

7

  12.40

       82.67

87

    176.14

Scallop  option
Scallops with coral small scallops, so you can use two per skewer

102533

160

6

3

53

13

     9.60

    128.00

Refreezing : for the record

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Hello Nyrena
It’s interesting to have this debate with a sensible and well-informed customer. The subject of refreezing is a challenging, if small, aspect of running the Fish Society.

As I explained, it is very hard to figure out in every case how much packaging is required to keep a parcel frozen. Every parcel is different. He wants 1kg of squid rings – a nightmare as there is so much surface area and very little inner coldness. She wants 2kgs herring melts – very easy to pack as they are solid blocks with a large inner reservoir of coldness. Person three wants melts and rings… hmmm.

The only way to ensure every parcel arrived hard frozen would be to overpackage almost every parcel. But this would increase the cost of delivery to a figure which would put off most customers.
It would also be very wasteful because most parcels would not need the extra packaging applied to them, since they would stay frozen without it.
So our policy is to package to a level which will keep defrosts and partial defrosts below one per cent.

Nyrena, below I offer my complete chapter and verse on this whole subject. I wrote at a high level of detail because I am planning to publish this on our blog.

All the best
James

1) We try very hard to get the fish to you frozen, without spending inordinate amounts keeping it frozen.
2) If you are unhappy with the temperature at which it arrives (regardless of our own views), we will refund you in full. Obviously, we do not have to do this very often, otherwise we would be out of business.
3) However, if the fish arrives unfrozen, it’s not necessarily a writeoff. This indeed is what it says on the foodsafety.gov website you directed me to http://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/charts/frozen_food.html. In fact it implies more: that if the fish has been OVER 5C FOR LESS THAN 2 HOURS, IT MAY BE REFROZEN.
4) This is a more aggressive prescription than I would be happy with. How do you know how long it has been over 40F? What if it had reached 60F for 90 minutes?
5) Our normal advice: if the fish is over 5C it should be discarded. If it never got over 5C, it is OK to refreeze. Even if it was say 4C for a few hours. I can assure you that I have eaten many kilos of fish which reached 5C and were then refrozen, without ill effect.
6) In fact, of course, most customers are not going to take the temperature of their fish. So we say, ‘If it’s “cold to the touch”, it is OK to refreeze’. Most customers know what cold top the touch means and furthermore, most customers innately know that a frozen product which has unintentionally defrosted without coming up to room temperature is in fact safe to refreeze. They know it is not a writeoff. Notwithstanding the widespread advice that you should never refreeze a defrosted product, their common sense tells them that. I know this because in 20 years of running The Fish Society, I have had perhaps 500 conversations on this subject with all sorts of customers.
7) TEXTURE AND FLAVOUR LOSS
It is true that there will be some texture and flavour loss, but the extent to which this will diminish your eating pleasure will normally be very slight and often undetectable unless you have a very distinguished palate. If the fish was at 5C for ten hours and awash in watery runoff by the time it was refrozen, then the diminution would be clear to most people. If it was only partially defrosted and there was no water runoff, then most people would find it difficult to taste the difference in a blind taste test. You could easily test this yourself. Take a packet containing two pieces of frozen fish. Defrost one in your fridge overnight then refreeze. Then cook both and serve them up to a friend. Can your friend taste the difference?
8) Obviously we would prefer there to be no defrosting and no texture and flavour loss. But if it is clearly going to be slight, because the defrosting itself is clearly slight, we always try to reassure the customer along the lines set out above.
9) Often this is a difficult conversation, although we always seek to conclude it in a friendly manner and I would remind you that our bottom line is, if you’re not happy, we will refund you in full. Some customers just won’t have it. Of the 500 conversations referred to above, perhaps 40 have ended up with the customer quoting me the “You should never refreeze a defrosted product. Anything even slightly defrosted is not good enough.” So we give these people a refund – they are certainly entitled to it. And we sack them, which is our entitlement.
10) Most of the other 460 conversations, by the way, ended up with us making a refund of 20 to 40% of the value of the affected items (eg the squid rings but not the herring melts) by way of our acknowledging that the delivery was not perfect but little was lost.
11) So why does virtually every packet of frozen food say “Never refreeze a defrosted product”? Well, that’s because you are trying to give millions of people some meaningful and important advice. A defrosted product which is left around at room temperature for several hours could be very dangerous. Especially if it was then refrozen without any sign of having been defrosted. Perhaps a quarter of the population would be oblivious to this danger. In the UK, that would be 15m people. To protect them from dangerously defrosted and refrozen food, you need to drill in “Never refreeze a defrosted product”, because anything more subtle would confuse them.
12) But many of the rest of the population can understand more sophisticated advice, such as “If it’s cold to the touch, it’s OK to refreeze.” Furthermore, defrosting and refreezing is an everyday procedure in the food processing industry. It is done under controlled conditions including keeping the defrosted product chilled. If this procedure was forbidden, many popular foods would disappear from supermarket shelves.

From: Nyrena Brown
Sent: 13 July 2013 11:54
To: James Smith
Subject: Re: oh, dear

Hello James

Please can you reship the order appropriately packed.

I attach a link to the government’s food safety website and the delivery would definitely have met the ‘discard’ criteria. I also find it interesting that you are suggesting that if the fish is partially defrosted it can be refrozen when the food safety site suggests that doing this will result in a loss of texture and/or flavour.

http://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/charts/frozen_food.html

regards and thanks

Nyrena Brown

From: James Smith
Sent: Thursday, July 11, 2013 2:00 PM
To: Nyrena282
Subject: FW: oh, dear

Hello Mrs Brown
Thanks for this email. It makes me feel a rather humble.
The refund went thru on 3 July and will be on your next statement.
Would you like us to re-ship that order?
Shall I ask Kim to call you about a delivery date?
James

From: Nyrena Brown
Sent: 11 July 2013 12:50
To: James Smith
Subject: Re: oh, dear

Dear Mr Smith,

Thank you for your reply and apologies.

Thank you for your offer of a full refund, which I look forward to receiving.

I have always been instructed that it is not advisable to refreeze fish or meat once defrosted. The order I received on 3rd July was thawed and soggy, thus I had to throw it all away. I have never experienced thawed fish from yourselves, this is the first time this has happened.

I would like to proceed on the basis you refer to below, especially during these hot summer days and I am willing to pay the extra cost to ensure the order arrives frozen and packed properly.

Yours sincerely,

Nyrena Brown

From: James Smith
Sent: Wednesday, July 03, 2013 6:39 PM
To: Nyrena282
Subject: oh, dear

Dear Mrs Brown

We have been very grateful for your orders over many years

Of course we always try to ensure that our orders arrive frozen. To do this we could EITHER use “more than enough” dry ice and special packaging (all expensive) OR make some judgements about what is sufficient. However, not every judgement is dead right, so there is always a small risk of the fish arriving not quite hard frozen at your door. Based on the number of orders you have received, I am sure you will have experienced this once or twice .

Slightly defrosted fish is not a health hazard. It is perfectly fine to refreeze as long as the temperature is below 5C. Most of our customers recognise this. When your assistant rang however, I found her very unreasonable. She insisted that anything that had ever been partly defrosted could never be refrozen. She seemed determined to get a total replacement of the fish. I have instead refunded you in full.

We cannot deal with such people. However, looking at the many orders you have placed, this makes me very sad.

Nyrena, I can only suggest that for any future orders from you we would
1) pack with extra dry ice
2) always use a poly box and
3) send “by noon”.
This would cost you an extra £10 per order. Basically, this is the “more than enough” approach and this is the cost of it.

If you would like to proceed on this basis, please let me know.

Yours sincerely

James Smith

=========================

Nyrena Brown is not this customer’s real name.

RIP Smoked Herring Paste

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James here, on a sad day. Here at my desk, I’ve just eaten what’s probably my final serving of smoked herring paste. Danish manufacturers PK Konserver seem to have discontinued making this wonderful concoction. In fact I think they stopped making it months ago but I had stored a few tubes away in the freezer. Now I’m down to none. Thankfully, they still make the smoked cod roe paste. There’s probably someone out there in Scandinavia making the herring paste… if so, please get in touch.

smoked herring paste last tube

Our New Labels

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Here at The Fish Society’s HQ we are always looking for improvement. The labelling on our fish has to conform with regulations however we strive to produce a label that is customer friendly to accompany our quality fish. In our efforts before now we have maybe tried to give too much information in a limited area. In a recent creative ‘Pow wow’ we have come up with a cleaner look with an added QR code.

Below is the old existing label format, as clear as it may seem here on our blog, when all this information with small font is stuck on a pack of frozen fish it can be hard to read for some.

Downstairs fish label OLD Small

Hours of discussion and negotiation within our creative and sales teams developed the new format below.

Downstairs fish label NEW

I’m sure you will agree this is so much clearer to read. For those of you with Smartphones etc the QR code will come in very handy to read the recipe, alternatively we have given you a quick code to find an accompanying recipe on our website very easily.

So when you next order, look out for our new labelling and we are always keen to hear your feedback. Just email james@thefishsociety.co.uk

The price of fish

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From: Brian Anone
Sent: 14 June 2013 16:49
To: team@thefishsociety.co.uk
Subject: Re: Your Fish Society order – 760XX

I have just realised that I am an idiot having paid £95 a kilo for John Dory how can you charge such an extortionate price for a fish that normally retail at around £17 a kilo?
Brian

_________________________

On 14 June 2013 17:15, James Smith <james@thefishsociety.co.uk> wrote:

Hello Brian

I’d hesitate to call you an idiot, but I detect that you’re calling us a bunch of burglars. So I’d like to point a few things out starting with this: you are mistaken. You cannot possibly buy John Dory fillet for £17.

You might buy some SMALL and WHOLE John Dory for £17. Many fishmongers price their fish whole as it sounds a lot cheaper. But when they fillet it, you will only walk away with 300g of fillet per 1000g of fish.

We pay £12-£14 per kg for whole John Dory in wholesale quantities. This is for extra large Dory, the only size we sell. Our whole fish weigh a minimum of 2kgs. It is very rare to see such magnificent  fish for sale in retail outlets.They usually go straight to the restaurant trade.

We could buy small John Dory for £7 a kilo or even £5 on a good day. But that size is a travesty.

When you fillet a John Dory, the yield is about 30%. The head is very large and the flesh is thin. The skeleton is a distressingly large part of the fish. Accordingly, the cost of the fillets is £47 per kilo (£14/30%). That’s before labour costs and overheads. I’d say our John Dory fillets stands us at about £60 per kg all-in.

You might be able to buy the same item (that is, a fillet from a large, good quality John Dory) for less, but you would have to be in the right place, on the right day, with a supplier who has more stock than he really wants. Whereas we offer it to you “on demand”. And every now and again we offer it at 20% off.

I think our price is fair.

James Smith

_________________________

From: Brian Anone
Sent: 14 June 2013 17:47
To: James Smith
Subject: Re: Your Fish Society order – 760XX IMPORTANT INFORMATION

James, you make a fair point and I concede that maybe I am not an idiot and I certainly did not feel you were burglars, just at the top end of the price point!

Brian

This season’s wild salmon has arrived!

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Our wild salmon is caught in Scotland and Northumberland and the 2013 season stocks have arrived and are all expertly prepared ready to buy.

Wild salmon is one of those sublime foods that seem to be loved by everyone, it tastes more robust than farmed salmon. with a rich texture and distinct colour.

wild salmon

Our on the bone wild salmon steaks are just perfect for the BBQ on a summer’s evening. We also have wild salmon tail pieces, wonderful to roast with seasonal herbs an vegetables. This is what food writer Jane Grigson says in her great book ‘Fish Cookery’ -

“In restaurants, at weddings and parties, I have often eaten the middle cut with pleasure, but when I have to put my own money down on the fishmonger’s counter, it’s the moister and better flavoured tailpiece that I buy.”

13588_130550

If you choose to buy a whole wild salmon and prepare it your self, we thought you may like to take a look at our very popular YouTube video on how to fillet a wild salmon. Even if you are not confident enough to give it a go it is fun to see how your fillets are prepared before they get to your kitchen.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O1s7m7S0H4E

Our New Catalogue

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There was much excitement this week, after a few months of hard work from all the team our new catalogue has finally arrived from the printers. With such a vast range on offer it was hard to decide how best to display some of our finest fish.

Some of our customers like to have a ‘touchy feely’ experience when deciding what they wish to buy. Our new catalogue certainly offers that.

In the opening we explain the cuts of fish, so that you are fully aware of exactly what to expect when you order from us.

Some of the photos show the vibrancy colours in some of the fish, such as the mackerel, lobster and the tempting display of the mouth-watering paella.

The catalogue is categorised to help you quickly pinpoint the fish you are looking for. Browsing through the glossy pages can help you decide your weekly menu planning and inspire ideas for upcoming dinner parties, or dare I say it if this glorious weather keeps up….a BBQ! It is not all about meat on the Barbie, many fish cook beautifully on the BBQ. Why not try sardines, salmon or even our peeled prawns on a skewer.

We are sending our new catalogue out with new orders, but if you would like to see one to see what tempts you just give us a call and we will pop one in the post. A must for the modern kitchen.

Spred med

What’s in your clam chowder?

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TREASON NARROWLY AVOIDED

(James here) We’ve just added this item to our list. It’s made by John Lusty, a famous name in quality soups which I thought had died and gone to heaven years ago. For years, we have had to buy our lobster bisque from Germany. However, I recently discovered Lusty had made a comeback under new owners.

I bought a few of their items on the spot including a clam chowder, a classic American dish that I have always wanted to include in our range. The shipment arrived today and we have been it and updating our website.

I was about to use the term New England Clam Chowder when I thought I should check Lusty’s ingredient list with various sources on the web.

Thank heavens for The New England Clam Chowder Compendium. This would have been more than a faux pas.

For the full story, start here.

Oysters Rockefeller

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The recipes we recommend on our website we like to try out ourselves. On Friday our very own in-house chef Marc treated us to the delights of Oysters Rockefeller!

Some of us had never heard of the recipe and a couple had not experienced the taste of oysters before, so there was somewhat nervous anticipation of what to expect.

This recipe was invented in 1889 by Jules Alciatore who was in charge of his family’s restaurant in New Orleans. Great mystique hangs over it including Alciatore’s supposed deathbed insistence that the exact recipe never be disclosed. As of 2013, “Huitres en coquille à la Rockefeller” is still the first item on the restaurant menu. It was named after John D Rockefeller, the richest man of his day.

We thought we would share the Friday excitement with you…….

Marc  making the paste

Marc making the paste

Blitzing in the blender

Blitzing in the blender

Marc spreading the paste, making sure to cover all the oysters

Marc spreading the paste, making sure to cover the whole of each oyster

In a former life whilst working as a chef at a top London hotel, Marc once prepared 5000 of these for function. Our lunch was breeze for him!

In the oven, whilst we wait patiently!

In the oven, whilst we wait patiently!

Viola! Oysters Rockerfeller!

Voila! Oysters Rockefeller

Display them on a bed of rock salt. It keeps them steady and looks good too.

Maureen enjoying lunch!

Maureen enjoying lunch

Kim even came in on her day off to sample the delights!

Kim was very hungry

Safe to say they went down a treat!

Safe to say they went down a treat!

Oysters Rockefeller is a sophisticated yet simple to prepare starter that will impress your dinner guests. As you can see from the photos we certainly enjoyed our Friday treat. The hint of Pernod and tabasco was warming, the oysters were smooth. A taste on the palate that will be a long-lasting memory. Give it a try! We would love to hear how you get on and see some photos of your Oysters Rockerfeller. Bring a little bit of New Orleans to your dinner table!

Jim’s Jump for M.E.

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Our ‘Man Friday’ Jim who keeps things at the Fish Palace running smoothly…. weighing, packaging and labeling is taking a huge leap for charity.

On Sunday 25th August in Windsor he is taking part in a sponsored 300ft bungee jump! Very brave or crazy? His leap of faith has come about by his support for a close friend suffering from Myalgic Encephalomyelitis more commonly known as M.E.

M.E. is poorly understood and even disbelieved by some medical professionals. This debilitating disease is dreadful to live with, many sufferers are unable to work or attend school. In some cases sufferers are totally bed bound and it can be fatal.

Jim is hoping to raise money to support the charity www.meassociation.org.uk that helps sufferers and funds research into the disease.

We are supporting Jim with his cause; for every Fish Society member that sponsors him, we will donate £1 up to £100. So please sponsor Jim for his ‘Jump for M.E.’ to make a difference.

www.justgiving.com/jim-sahlsberg

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Where are the Wallis & Futuna Islands?

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About 1,200 miles west of Australia, it turns out. Population 15,000. And their significance? You have to try very hard to avoid stupid output from a website.James here, in reflective mood, wondering why my book about the British Museum’s Pompeii exhibition hasn’t turned up since I bought it online two months ago. My tickets are for this weekend. Yes, I know I should have been alive to this earlier. But I plead too busy. Our new catalogue has been an epic.

So, no Pompeii book. I dig out the original order confirmation email. The address on it is my complete normal UK address including post code, followed by “Wallis & Futuna Islands”?!? Presumably, my book has gone there.

Did I do that? Perhaps Wallis and Futuna was the country after United Kingdom in the drop down list (however, that would suggest unkindness to Vatican  – although that one could be THE Vatican – but definitely to Vanuatu – see map). But however it came about – that my address went down as Wallis & Futuna – they really should have a system of sorting out this kind of nonsense. A sense checker.

My colleague Kims spend several hours a day checking our online orders. Just reading them over… Did that person really mean to have that order delivered on August 27th? So we ring them and check. Does this person really want 22 packs of herring melts? That kind of thing. Essential.

I bet they have some nice fish there.

Wallis & Fotuna

Turbot day

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Marc was up before the birds the other morning and off to Billingsgate Fish Market in the hunt for wild turbot. He returned with a plentiful catch of superb large fish. The average weight was  6.5 kilos. These were monsters! The wild turbot from this shopping spree was caught off the Cornish coast.

Then the real work began…..filleting and portioning. There is no wastage when preparing these fish. We sell the heads for soup making, any misshapes for pies or stir fries, and the we use the skeletons for our fish stock.

Marc expertly prepared each wild turbot. The Fish Society prides itself on quality and consistency; so when you order two servings they will be equal in shape as well as weight. This shape bit is a real challenge as you inevitaby get huge variations in shape.

We thought you might like to see the process…

A whole wild turbot prepared for portioning.

Whole fillets awaiting portioning.

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After cutting fillet in two, here come individual steaks.

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Weigh each one to ensure our packs contain equal-size steaks

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Also match for shape

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Voila. This is the yield from one fish.

These fillet steaks were then vacuum-packed, labelled and frozen.

We have more information on Wild Turbot on;

http://www.thefishsociety.co.uk/articles_Our-Guide-To-Turbot_53.html

and a recipe link below;

http://www.thefishsociety.co.uk/show-recipe_Roasted-Turbot-with-Porcini-and-Red-Wine_131155.html

Are you missing Masterchef?

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So all the excitement of the gripping last few episodes of Masterchef are over now. Are you missing the mouth-watering culinary delights? If so you too could create a tasty starter using Lobster Tails just like winner Natalie Coleman! We found this recipe for from Woman and Home that we have adapted for you to try.

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Fennel and Lobster Salad with Pomegranate

Serves 4

  • bulbs fennel, very finely sliced
  • 1 small red onion, finely sliced
  • grated zest and juice 2 limes
  • large pinch of dried chilli flakes
  • 5tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large defrosted rock lobster tail
  • 2tbsp each: chopped fresh coriander, mint and flat-leaf  parsley
  • seeds of 1 pomegranate
  • Mix together the fennel, onion, lime zest and juice, chilli and oil in a  large bowl. Season and toss well together.
  • Poach the lobster tails in simmering water for 5 to 7 minutes, then run under  water for a few minutes. When cool enough to handle, remove the shell by cutting  through the underside, then the shell will peel off.
  • Add all the herbs to the salad. Divide the salad between 4 plates. Slice the  lobster and arrange on top, then scatter over the pomegranate seeds.

Enjoy!

New catalogue soon

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We’re about to send a new catalogue to the printer – the first for a couple of years. We were out of practice so the effort was enormous. But it’s looking good.
Just 50 more corrections to go. Oh! Who forgot to put the fish pies in?
Do you like our new “cuts explained” page?Cover med

Cuts med

Spred med

Paella Fun in May

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May has arrived and seems to have brought the sun with it. With Bank Holiday Monday approaching and outdoor entertaining in mind, why not stand out from the crowd, avoid the bangers on the barbie and have a go at a paella dish.

Anyone who has been on holiday to Spain will have experienced paella, perhaps with a glass of Rioja or two! Paella originates from the Valencia region of Spain. A rice based dish combining locally sourced seafood and the meat from the farm, a centrepiece for a family gathering. Traditionally in days gone by paella was cooked on a Sunday, the woman’s day off, so the men cooked the dish.

Paella

So if seeing this lovely photo brings back holiday memories flooding back and you wish to recreate your little bit of Spain in the garden this weekend…..What could be easier?We have our very own Paella Kit with all the vital ingredients; Spanish paella rice, saffron, clams, mussels, king prawns, squid, monkfish, chorizo sausage, chicken breast. And full instructions! All you need to add are vegetables, lemons and olive oil, plus some mixture of wine, water and fish stock. You can add to the authenticity of this traditional dish with one of our Paella Pans. When you give it a go, please let us know how tasty it was, Adios!

Eating Fish is Good For you

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Eating less meat and more fish in your diet can make a positive impact on your diet. Much of the research on the benefits of fish stem from research on Inuit natives and their high consumption of salmon with a correspondingly low rate of heart disease. Over time we’ve come to understand that this is because they are eating fish that are high    in monounsaturated fats, especially Omega 3 fats.

There’s lots of research on the power of fish to prevent heart disease.This means fatty fish or “dark fish” like tuna, salmon, sardinesswordfish,or mackerel  which are all high in Omega 3 fatty acids.

With Spring finally ‘Sprung’ and the lighter evenings, we are now thinking of more active evenings, getting fit and trim for the summer. The running shoes and the dusty bicycles are getting an airing. Salads and spring vegetables are making their way to our dinner tables instead of hearty winter warming pies etc. So with our vast range of fish to choose from, with the help of some of our recipes fish is no longer ‘just for Fridays’ but very much part of our weekly shop.

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All hail St George

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It does seem extraordinary that Saint George, England’s patron saint has nothing whatsoever to do with these fair shores. Legend has it he was born in Cappadocia, now Turkey, in 3AD and later lived in Palestine becoming a Roman soldier – where the gallantry bit comes in no doubt. But putting dragons aside, perhaps it’s his foodie heritage we should keep in mind this 23rd April.

And, instead of rushing off to the nearest chippy to honour the ‘great man’, here at Fish Palace, we think it’s a chance to savour some of the fish that George himself might have eaten.  Gilt-head bream, also known as çipura or çupra, is the Aegean’s most famous fish so this one heads the must try list, especially if you’re a fan of sea bass.
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Or, if you’re feeling brave, like George, and fancy pushing the boat out a bit why not give bonito a go? Ours actually comes from Spain, produced by the iconic Ortiz tuna cannery, and are definitely worthy of a celebration, especially if you go for the revered ventresca de bonito. Had he been around today, George’s celebrity status probably would have seen him driving around in a Lamborghini, so this top-drawer product is more than fitting.
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For a taste of Palestine, the latest book from Yotam Ottolenghi, Jerusalem has some wonderfully aromatic fish dishes, including pan-fried bream with harissa and rose. Middle East meets North Africa, but hey! We’re a cosmopolitan lot these days.


 

The Perfect Scampi Shot

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Earlier this week at The Fish Palace our fish took part in a photo shoot! We chose a selection of models to reinvent themselves in a different style to update our website and for our new catalogue.

Photographing fish is never an easy task. To capture their features, such as colour and texture either in raw or cooked form is a skill that our talented photographer certainly managed this week with our popular model Peeled Scampi.

Scampi is the meat from inside the tail of the langoustine. Our scampi is taken from large Scottish fish and is unadulterated by any of the dubious “make them look bigger” techniques so prevalent with scampi. This grade is rarely seen outside the smartest restaurants and hotels, and despite the price, this is one of our most popular items.

Our previous photo displayed the Peeled Scampi laid out looking very pale on little gem lettuce leaves. Not the most inviting plate of appetisers we have seen!

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Then with a spot of styling from Fern and the camera skills of Danielle – both assisted by “golden trainers Millicent” and perhaps too by early rays of spring sunshine – ‘Hey Presto!’ we have a photo that makes your mouth water.

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Our Peeled Scampi saver pack is a perfect choice for a supper with friends.

Fishy tales: Fooled you!

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While the next month will see many of us munching our way through another mountain of post-Easter chocolate eggs, did you know that in France it’s fish they’ll be eating? Despite being called friture, these are also more likely to be of the confectionery variety. And you can expect to see them swimming around for pretty much the whole of April.

The friture, or Easter Fish as they are also known, are handed out to young tricksters who having stuck a paper fish on to the back of an unsuspecting adult scarper with the cry of, “Poisson d’Avril!”

Tradition has it, this April fool style joke, started with another popular hoax that saw a hapless shopper being sent to the market with instructions to buy a freshwater fish that wasn’t in season. Made to look foolish in front of the fishmonger, they’d be sent home blushing from ear to ear.

It’s tempting to suggest that, these days even French kindergarten kids are schooled in the knowledge of when to buy oysters. Sadly a lesson unlikely to be learnt by their cross Channel counterparts.

So unless you’re planning a trip to the Alsace, which turns a separatist eye to Germany for its seasonal customs, if in France this April, don’t forget to watch your back!

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If you’re craving fish over chocolate, battered squid rings, you’ll find are pretty satisfying.

Smoked haddock eggsactly right for Easter

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With Easter almost upon us, we’re very busy at Fish Palace. Yet somehow we found time yesterday to perfect the recipe for our very own Easter egg. It went down a storm with the staff. 16 eggs made. 16 eggs eaten. just like that. Sophie Blair, hold back!

While our Smoked Haddock Egg may not cause Cadbury to quake, it might set off a few quivers among Fish Society members. Filled with a delicious ricotta and spinach mix, it will make an attention-grabbing addition to any meal. And if the sun does decide to make an appearance (hope springs eternal) these eggs would happily stow away for a picnic.

Of course a photo never does a recipe justice (you’ll have to trust us on this one), but we hope a few of you might be tempted to make your own Smoked Haddock Eggs this weekend. Or, if you’re a traditionalist, you could serve up the same smoked haddock fillet in a classic breakfast Kedgeree.It would be a perfect way to start Easter Day.

Er, did you ever see our fish for breakfast selection?

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Our fishy twist on the Scotch Egg 

Fish fit for a Pope

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Almost a week into his new job, and there’s still plenty of intrigue surrounding the Vatican’s latest incumbent. We’ve heard he likes to cook his own meals and his culinary habits are on the humble side. Yet, word has it he’s been known to bless a kitchen, which suggests a certain enthusiasm for food. So this got us wondering about the piscatorial preferences of Pope Francis I.

Perhaps he’s partial to a fillet of surubi, pacu or boga – we hear those are the big fish in Buenos Aires’ Parana River. Well, we’re sorry, but we can’t offer any of those up. But if freshwater fish is the right zone His Holiness would definitely be tempted by some trout. And should he have a few house guests to entertain over the coming weeks, our whole carp would surely content a conclave of cardinals.

Now he’s moved to St Peter’s, perhaps someone will be tempted to serve up John Dory, which also goes by the name of Peter’s Fish’. The Dory has a dark spot on its side which is supposedly the thumb-print left by Peter during his career as a fisherman. But they had better beware: at £95 a kilo, humble it is not! Maybe they should consider haddock, another fish boasting St.Peter’s thumbprint. We don’t think the cooks of the Curia would get into trouble with £23 a kilo haddock. In fact if they came to us for a saver pack, we could reduce this to just £18 a kilo. And what a jolly fine fish it is.

At any rate, if the pescivendolo of Rome are found wanting, rest assured, The Fish Society will be more than happy to step in.
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Spot the difference: John Dory (top) and Haddock (bottom)

 

This weekend: A touch of the blarney

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With the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations almost upon us, here at Fish Society HQ we don’t need an excuse to doff caps in salute to our cousins from the Emerald Isle.

Each new batch of freshwater eels that arrive into our cold store is a reminder of the fantastic larder Ireland has to offer. Yes, it can be a bit of a slippery house guest but, James tells me, once you’ve tasted the wonderful, rich meat, you’ll be converted. And if a whole eel is too much to handle, we’ve got some ready to cook eel steaks, just perfect for roasting or poaching.

However, if this Sunday is an excuse to push the boat out a bit, how about dishing up a Dublin Lawyer? No, not a silver-tongued attorney in a wig and gown, we’re talking here about lobster baked with whiskey and cream. Yes it’s rich and boozy (so too, reputedly, was the legal eagle after which it was named!) but it’s a classic. And by trimming the portion size and dressing with a simple green salad, a cholesterol calamity can be averted.
dublin_lawyer

Of course, as well as great food, the other passion that the Irish readily share with the world is horseracing. And giving Dublin Lawyer a run for its money is Rachel Allen’s Hot Buttered Lobster recipe. Her cooking sauce, made from a white wine and vegetable stock, is altogether lighter, and definitely worth a punt. You’ll find a recipe for Hot Buttered Lobster on our web pages.

Beat that. Best batter article.

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Someone has just asked why we don’t sell fish frying batter. There are two reasons: first, he’s the first person to ask. Second, I don’t do deep frying at home as I can’t bear the smell next day. So it has never occurred to me that our customers might want it. Doh.

But I do like chippy-style fish in batter. I like to cause a gaggle in our local fish and chip shop by walking in with a nice piece of fish for them to batter and fry. I remember going in with a turbot fillet a couple of years ago. They thought I had arrived from Planet Zog. Seriously, they had never heard of turbot.

We could be in for the same tonight. I’m going to take in two fillet steaks of zander.

I shall investigate adding a batter mix to our site, but in the course of my researches I found a superb article about fish batter on The Guardian website which I simply MUST record here. Well done Felicity Cloake. Here you go:

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Worth a look: Fishing in Scotland

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DONALD

Meet Donald, a fisherman of 30 years who also runs Fishing in Scotland. We don’t usually recommend fishing blogs on here, for the simple reason that most of our readers are looking for fish to catch the easy way (fast, online, at home), as opposed to waiting for hours for their dinner (slow, outside, in the cold…something we’re sure Donald knows only too well about!).

Fishing in Scotland is a little bit different from most fishing blogs, though – for one it’s filled with pictures taken by the site’s owner, in and around rural Scotland, and for another it covers a whole lot more than fishing, including survival techniques, holidays, bushcraft and even accommodation. We had a look the other day and found everything from Bristol Bay’s Pebble Pledge to the villainous Keith the seal and even Rick Stein’s food (note: Keith the seal and Rick Stein’s food are mentioned separately! We know Rick can be adventurous, but seal-cuisine is going too far, even for him).

More to the point, Donald recently blogged twice about The Fish Society’s keta salmon Caviar, which he seems to be a big fan of. You can read the first one here and the latest installment here. Good to know it’s going down well in Scotland!

Great Moroccan cuisine

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The Fish Society‘s headquarters are directly beside a cake factory, which is a very handy feature for a fishmonger in need of a sugar boost. On just such a mission last week, Claire, the owner of the cake place, turned out to be in need of a fish boost.

She was after some decent hake for a tagine dish she had made for dinner with friends. James sorted her out in no time (“We had the perfect item Chris, huge boneless steaks…” yeah yeah yeah). He took this photo of the tagine before the hake went in. Makes you want to eat, doesn’t it?

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If you’re familiar with Moroccan food, you’ll be aware that the tagine is a staple dish of North Africa. Usually, a fish tagine is made with grouper, but this can be replaced with sea bass or hake or many other kinds of large fish. Named after the traditional earthenware pot in which it is made, the tagine – always infused with garlic, cumin and paprika – is a fine culinary experience, whichever fish is used.

James said Claire was taking her recipe from one of his favourite cook books – that of the well-known Moro restaurant in North London. He says this book contains one of his favourite pictures – a photo of a penniless fish-seller in a pin-stripe suit with a yoke over his shoulders dangling two huge baskets of sardines.”He reminds me of me,” says James. [Really? Another entry there, perhaps.]

The challenge of photographing fish

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Fancy meeting this on a dark night?

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Let’s have another go at that.

Like any online company, The Fish Society is no stranger to immortalizing its products via digital photos. Immortalising! But is it the right kind of immortalising?

Fish just is not very co-operative in the cause of looking good. The solution to this conundrum would seem obvious: take pictures of the fish while being cooked, or as an impressive specimen with fins and skin. But customers want to know what they’re getting, not what they’re going to make it into. And anyway, who’s going to pay for the chef to come in every time you need a new picture?

So you can never get too far away from the cod roe problem immortalised above. No matter how much experience you have with fish, it’s a never-ending job which takes ages to get right.

Taking pictures...again

Taking pictures…again

James told me was that using a flash is always a bad idea. The light bounces off and the fish looks anaemic. So in the end, it comes down to trying out lots of different ideas, props and angles.

You mean like this?

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Aaarrrgggghhhh!!!

Slowly, we’ll get there:

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The old anchovies picture…

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…and the new one.

The Wine Society: matching great food with great wine

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Lobster meat – ideal for loads of different recipes, and great with Chardonnay

What kind of food goes well with what kind of wine? It’s a common question we’ve all been puzzled by at some point. Matching fish with wine is just as tricky. What goes well with lobster might take the edge off another dish entirely, and sometimes, it seems like opinions are so conflicting that you’ll never get a proper answer.

Enter The Wine Society. 20 years ago, James tells me, The Fish Society were ever so slightly inspired by this company, who specialise in matching wine lovers with wine of the right type, variety and budget. Their new feature, which I’ve just been playing about with, is definitely worth a look if you’re after something to go with that nice piece of haddock or sea bass or salmon. Using the drop down menus on page 1 you can select which kind of fish or food you’re having, and on the next page you’ll be able to choose the price bracket of wine that works for you (less than £7 or £30 and over, for example). One click and you get a full list of suitable wines for as many as 30 kinds of fish. It’s also a handy tool if you have vegetarian guests, and will give you an idea in seconds of what goes well with lots of different desserts.

While this idea may not be welcomed by more serious wine buffs who already know exactly what they’re looking for, it does offer a great way of narrowing down the options for those in a hurry, or for people who are open to trying out lots of different kinds of wine.

Ever heard of zander?

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Well known at Woburn, Winslow and… Katon-Karagay

If you have then you’re in the minority. But you’re about to be even more knowledgeable than them… many who DO know this fish – which is somewhere between a pike and a perch – believe it to be a hybrid, but actually it’s entirely unique, sharing attributes from both.

Quoting The Penguin Book of Fish at me, James said: “The Duke of Bedford, a very keen fisherman and naturalist, first introduced the voracious pike/perch [aka Zander] into the lakes at Woburn Abbey in 1910. In common with both pike and perch they are true predators, always ready to attack any fish small enough to be swallowed.

“In 1951, about 30 young specimens of 5 inches in length were introduced to the Claydon lakes near Winslow, where a few fairly large specimens have since been caught, including an 8 pounder — the largest recorded in this country so far.” (This was a very old edition of The Penguin Book of Fish. In August 2012, Dave Palmer set the UK record with a 20 pounder caught in the Severn.)

The Fish Society has just taken delivery of some handsome zander fillets which are here. Not from the Severn, nor Woburn nor Wilmslow. You’ll never guess… “We got these from Kazakhstan, and they are really fantastic looking pieces of fish. Imagine a nice big cod fillet, about 15 inches long, with an interesting skin-side – sort of purple and yellow and grey, instead of the green of cod. The fish are much bigger than I anticipated, so one large fillet is going to feed two people very substantially.”

“I’m really hoping everyone will try these. They’re a really top class fish experience.”

A Platter Of Fruits Of The Sea, Anyone?

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If you’ve been following this blog for a while then you’ll have seen that it’s not uncommon for The Fish Society to receive enquiries from fish lovers not just in the UK and Europe, but all over the world. For example, Albuquerque in New Mexico has a population somewhere in the region of 505,000 residents, and last week one of these enthusiastic residents emailed James to ask if they could ship some turbot out. Yes: frozen fish from the UK direct to New Mexico!To this, James understandably said “do you like turbot that much?” and mentioned that the delivery cost alone would be as much as $324 (£200). That may sound expensive, but it’s a pretty good deal actually, when you consider that New Mexico is approximately 5,000 miles (or 8,000 km) away.

And yes, apparently the customer really did like turbot that much.

Deliveries to the US aren’t just prohibitively expensive, either – thanks to bio-terrorism laws they’re also extremely complex and challenging to organise, as every single package needs to be inspected individually. Suffice to say, a safe delivery can never be 100% guaranteed and once it reaches customs, you’ll want to have a local agent in place to vouch for both you and the supplier who sent it. A headache, yes, but for quality fish we still think it’s worth it.

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I’ve just discovered it’s presently out-of-stock, but click the image and you can ask to be emailed when it comes back in

Among all the email enquiries, when I called James last Friday, he told me about a particularly impressive order which had just come through. “We’ve got a very exciting order which is going to Chamonix, to a magnificent sounding chalet,” he said. “We’re sending none other than a Plat des fruits de mer out – apparently there are no good fish there.”

For those of you who are unfamiliar, the Plat des fruits du mer is something of a French legend. Known the world over as the classic French seafood ensemble, it consists – in this case, but perhaps not all – of 8 different kinds of shellfish: a list which includes everything from mussels and winkles to prawns, brown shrimps, crab and lobster.

Yes…if you love seafood then it’s pretty brilliant!

The great thing about ordering this direct from The Fish Society is that all of it has already been perfectly cooked beforehand. All you’ll have to do is take it out of the box and arrange it accordingly on a pile of ice.

In fact, The Fish Society already have an article up about how to do exactly that. A stainless steel bowl and stand is also a good idea if you really want to show this selection off.

And if you were thinking that the Plat des fruits du mer is only loved by the French then think again – this dish has long been a hit in New York, and now it’s starting to gain notoriety in Los Angeles, too. Champagne and Chablis are the ideal drink to accompany this platter.

As far as whether to have this as a starter or a main course, there’s no right or wrong, and both options work equally well. Traditionally, the Plat des fruits du mer was an appetizer, but with a few extras like a good salad and crusty bread, there’s more than enough for an exquisite main course.

Looking to create some delicious home-made accouterments? In that case, a stone-ground mustard sauce will be excellent with the crab, and the scallops will benefit greatly from a Japanese pepper and citrus sauce (known as togarashi yuzu). Mayonnaise can also be spiced-up with a hint of saffron. There are endless options for this dish – for example, one European tradition sees the Plat des fruits du mer served with sweet butter on dark bread.

A Great Big Halibut Tail

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Everyone loves a monster fish story, and when I called James last Friday, he told me about a giant halibut they’d got in…

“Normally, a big halibut is something like 30 kilo, but when I went to my supplier and asked for something of that size, she came back to me with a 50 kilo fish, which I then paid for. However, a few minutes later she changed her mind and said she actually had a 65 kilo fish fresh off the boat and ready for me. We’d run out of halibut so I jumped at the chance.

And let me tell you this was one incredible fish. Have a look at the photos I’m going to send you for proof.”

I dare anyone to say James isn’t right…all the photos below are clickable, and will take you direct to buy halibut fillets.

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Three proud men and one enormous halibut!

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As for the price, let’s just say that this specimen cost as much as a decent car! But then, for a fish that took 4 people to lift it onto the boat, that’s probably what you’d expect.

James told me about the filleting process:

“It took 2 people to cut it up, me and Mark. I would say that between us we spent about 10 hours doing just this one fish. You get the fillets off the bone – which takes about half-an-hour – then you cut them up neatly, weigh and pack them, and it takes quite a long time to make it all nice and neat and ready for sale.

“It was a fantastic quality fish as well, caught in Norway. These fish have tags, depending on how long they’ve been out of the water, so you always know exactly what you’re getting. And really the fastest you can get a Norwegian fish into this country from the water is 2 days. This fish couldn’t have been much fresher than that – it arrived on the 3rd day.”

“A shame to cut it up, isn’t it?” I said, and James agreed. Although if he always thought like that, of course, he wouldn’t have a business to wake up to.

“Now, let me tell you how many potions we got off it…”

While James was adding them up, I guessed “80?”

“Not even close,” he replied, chuckling. “There were 220 fillet steaks in total. Then we also got off it 13 packs of engawa – which is a specialist sushi item. That’s the fin muscles, which have a fairly special texture. Then, on top of that, we had 11 packs of miss shapes, and that alone was 2.5 kilo. Lastly, we had ventresca sushi…”

Just as I was wondering what James had meant by special texture, he said this: “…I told you the engawa had a good texture…it’s, well, a little bit chewy. I’ve eaten a lot of it so I should know! You eat it raw and have to test it as you go along, so I ended up eating halibut all morning. So we’ve got some packs which I’ve called extra chewy, because some Japanese people do go for that kind of thing.

So the steaks alone, that’s some 220 portions. I would say that, all told, that fish is going to feed 270 people.”

Head over to The Fish Society to search for these items, which should be on sale very soon.

HALIBUT_3

HALIBUT_5

And there we have it: the finished product!

And there we have it: the finished product!

Once I’d got over all this big fish madness, I asked James if they’d be able to do anything with the fins, seeing as I knew they ate a lot of fins in Japan. James told me that they’d be throwing them away, but that in Japan that would never happen, as they always endeavour to use every part of the fish, including the skeleton (the phrase he actually used was “…In Japan they’d probably hung, draw and quarter us for throwing away the fins and skeleton!).

And that concludes this week’s halibut tail (sorry…). Next week, pike is on the menu. Stay tuned for more…although I can’t guarantee there won’t be a bad pun here and there!

Enquiries From All Over

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Most Fridays I call James and he tells me about a new product he has in, or I learn some interesting things about fish which I then pass on via this blog. That said, no two weeks at The Fish Society are ever the same, and this week’s post illustrates that point perfectly.

This week is all about the vast range of enquiries which James and co receive. And we’re not talking about from just down the road either. Take this email from down under, which is becoming more common than you might at first think:

G’day
I have been looking for a long time to get Arbroath Smokies delivered to
Australia. I see on you site you have delivered to Sydney and I am hoping they
can be delivered to me on the Gold Coast in Queensland.
[As I am] Originally from Arbroath it would be a special Christmas to have these on
the dinner table.
Can you deliver these?

Many Thanks

And here’s another example, this time an exceptionally comprehensive enquiry from Austria. You may want to put aside a few minutes to read this one!

Customer: I just started making sushi at home and found your website looking for premium frozen fish. Before making my first order I would like to ask a few questions.

James: Yes that’s fine.

Customer: The main reason I am looking for flash-frozen premium fish vs fresh is to make sure that any possible parasites have been killed. Are all your products safe to consume raw (frozen solid below -20C/-4F for at least 7 days or -35C/-31F for 15 hours according to US FDA), or just the ones labeled for Sushi ?

James: All our fish is frozen to -21.

Customer: If both are safe to eat raw, is there a difference in quality of fish selected for sushi strips versus fillets and whole fish ?

James: Yes. We select the best portions of the fish for strips. Not all portions make good strips.

Customer: How much time elapses on average from shelling/killing of prawns or scallops to freezing? Do you make sure they are all still alive right before? Are they safe to eat raw as well?

James: 2 days for prawns. All prawns arrive here frozen. They were processed and frozen in faraway places. All to high standards, Otherwise they could not get export licences for EU.

Scallops are from Scotland. We buy from the processor. They shell on day one and deliver to us day 2 or 3. We freeze on day 3 or (rarely) 4. Nevertheless, because shellfish is prone to carrying toxins, I personally would never eat a raw scallop. Only a cooked scallop.

Customer: Is the fish frozen soon after rigor mortis has passed, a few days after or maybe still before? How much time does it take on average from landing the fish until it is frozen? To my knowledge some fish is best aged, marinated or wrapped in kelp a few days to use for sushi, does frozen and carefully thawed fish behave the same as fresh fish in this regard?

James: It is impossible to give you a simple answer to this. We sell 400 fish from 380 suppliers. We do not witness their process which could occur 5,000 miles away. We simply buy good product based on our experience.

Customer: In the pictures on your website there is quite a difference between eg Red Snapper portions vs XXL fillets, or Tuna loin vs sushi Tuna.Are all the pictures representative of the actual products ?

James: In most cases, yes. We took the pics ourselves of product on our premises. Fish naturally varies in colour. And light conditions add more differences.

Customer: Which delivery zone does Vienna, Austria, Zip Code 1030 fall into ?

James: It’s Zone C but if you became a regular or even semi-regular customer, I’d cut you a bit of slack on the delivery surcharge.

Customer: When ordering large quantities like a filled 5kg box, is there a discount available ?

James: 5kgs is not a large order. Our discounts for quantity, where we offer them, are available on the website in the form of saver packs. The discounts are sometimes quite significant.

Customer: What is the ideal thawing procedure regardless of work involved (on top of crushed ice/changing it every few hours/etc) to ensure the best final quality?

James: Best = put the wrapped product in your fridge for 12 hours. If the product has an ice glaze (this is described on the packaging), allow the defrosting glaze to drip away into a bowl.

Customer: You state that in case of a delivery delay of 1 day that the fish will still be cold enough to refreeze again. To my understanding the temperature ceiling for this is about 4C. Could you maybe include temperature indicator strips within the box to be certain it has not been exceeded?

James: 4C is right. The arrival temperature is the highest temperature experienced by your shipment. No one in the chain is going to chill your parcel.

Customer: Which products would be too large for the 5kg box ? Does the XXL Red Snapper Fillet fit ?

James: I think we could fit a XXL RS fillet into a 5kg box.

Customer: Thank you in advance for taking the time to answer these questions.

And here, lastly, is a great little comment just posted on our Facebook page by one Claire Ross:

My order received safe and well today :) Phew! Didn’t know how was gonna get thru Christmas period without smoked haddock and spring onion fish cakes!!! :D

Thanks for that Claire!

A Lesson In Sea Bass

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Since I started blogging for The Fish Society, I’ve learned about all kinds of fish, from shellfish and lobster, to the ink in cuttlefish (great in pasta sauce, once you get past its disconcerting black appearance!). This time around, it was the turn of sea bass.

Known by many for its wonderful flavour, sea bass is great on the grill and the fish equivalent of chicken breasts. Available across the world in numerous different varieties, when I called James last Friday for our regular chat, some extra-special sea bass was the order of the day – as you’ll have seen if you get The Fish Society’s latest offer emails – and not the kind you can find at every fish monger’s, either.

Hames said: “I must say I was a bit queasy when one of our best suppliers offered me ten of these very large fish, direct from the south coast. You can imagine that these fish weren’t cheap, so we had a bit of a debate…ending in him persuading me to buy all ten of them [laughs]. And let me tell you, they are fantastic. One of them is the biggest sea bass I have ever seen, and the single most expensive, too.”

Have you ever seen such a proud man holding a fish? I dare you to claim so! Click the image to see the prices.

So, how big was this huge specimen fish, fit for a banquet? If you have no idea, then you’re not the only one, because when James asked me to guess I was instantly clutching at straws and responded with “how big is it?” For some reason, I’d thought that asking this might reveal some important information. But as with all things fish-related, I should have known that all it would do was confuse me even more, seeing as I wasn’t exactly sure how big a big sea bass was and how big they could actually grow…

As if designed to confuse me even more, James responded with an answer to the weight of the fish, rather than the size itself: “it weighs 5 kilo,” he said, and, pulling a figure out of thin air, I said “£323?” The reply, fortunately, didn’t totally embarrass me. The actual price for this one single most expensive fish was £245. Impressive on any level, no matter what your knowledge of sea bass or fish in general.

What I hadn’t considered, though, was the cooking of such a big fish (but then, this was hardly a big surprise — I always leave my cooking until the last minute!). James said that “there’s just one problem. On the down-side, the smallest of them is 26 inches, head to tail…which means they’re two inches too big to go in any large, commercially available fish kettle. (A fish kettle is a pan of varying size designed with the specific purpose of cooking an entire fish. Looking for one? You can find these on The Fish Society’s site.)

James explained that “it’s fairly easy to get those up to twenty-four inches long, but even that isn’t always as simple as it sounds. But anyway, the point is that it’s not big enough for these fish, unless you take the head and tail off, which I wouldn’t advise.”

I’ve no idea what James is doing with this fish, but whatever he’s doing, he’s clearly very happy.

Here, much to my satisfaction, I was finally able to offer-up some knowledge based on things I could actually claim I’d learned on my own. “You want to keep the cheeks in,” I said, to which James replied: “yes, and you want to keep the whole impression of such a magnificent fish.”

If you’re still thinking of buying one of these beautiful monsters – all of which were put on ice within 24-hours of being caught – there’s no need to be put off! Simply wrap the fish in foil and roast it.

A photo which is sure to make a few big sea bass lovers more than a bit jealous.

Suffice to say, as James pointed out, obtaining fish of this quality is always a gamble, seeing as a customer with £250 to spend on one single fish is hardly common. Despite that, James and I remain optimistic. If I had £250 to spend on a fish, I’m pretty sure James would be able to talk me round.

As a last note, just to show how rare these kind of trophy fish are, James told me that “If you went to fifty fishmongers and said ‘get me a five-kilo sea bass’, then, frankly, it’d be a miracle if you found a single one who could help you. If you put down £500 and asked the same question, however, you might get a bit of action.”

Back with more next week.

Hunt for the perfect blini…dear readers of this blog, can you help?

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Beatiful blinis…

If you’re a fan of caviare or smoked salmon then it’s quite possible that you’re also familiar with that thing known as the blini. For those who aren’t — and I was one of them so you may well be — a blini is a thin, dainty pancake of Russian origin which is very specific in size, depth and shape and thus not always easy to get a hold of, especially if you’re looking for a premium product. According to Alistair, the perfect blini should be as thin as possible, but still able to support caviare, for example, without collapsing en-route to one’s mouth. Designed to carry one or two mouthfuls, the ideal blini is between 5 and 7cm in diameter and slightly thicker than a standard Shrove Tuesday pancake. And if you don’t fancy caviare or smoked salmon then there are plenty of other options, like sour cream, jam, or even condensed milk.

According to James, The Fish Society has a long history with blinis, which started around 8-years-ago. The first product he found wasn’t very good – too thick – but the second supplier was much better. In James’s own words: “A few years ago we found the perfect blini, and it was from France. I actually met the guy whose company it was, when he dropped in on us while driving to Ireland with his family on holiday. We were too small to buy from him at the time – he wanted us to buy a few crates at a time – but he suggested we buy from his UK distributor instead, who’d happily sell us a few cases at a time. And these blinis really were fantastic. When I tried them on my blini-eating friends, they said they were the best they’d ever had. They were so special, and I remember that one of the ingredients which made them so was marigold flowers. We used to buy them in packs of 16 at a time, frozen, and then heat them up in the oven for 2 minutes.”

Fine quality Caviare, ideal with blinis

But last Friday, when I called James for our weekly chat, he explained to me that all was not well on the blini front. Up until the week before, The Fish Society had been receiving the same kind of product week in, week out for some years, but the last package that had arrived had contained a different kind of blini. Thicker and lacking the finesse of the previous variety, these blinis weren’t good enough – or more accurately, they weren’t the quality they were used to – and with that he set out to locate the original product. Except there was one big problem: the person James called at the suppliers had started working for them after he last ordered some blinis, and had no idea about the change in product. This Friday morning alone he’d spent 90 minutes searching for the supplier, and so far hadn’t had the slightest bit of luck. The information was somewhere in his email Inbox, but he couldn’t remember the name of the man who’d driven by all those years ago, or where he lived in France, or the name of the original blinis which were so delicious…

Which brings us to the final question: do you know the name of the blini maker from France who uses marigolds in his extra-special mixture? If so, James and co would love to hear from you, so please either leave a comment below or get in touch with him by emailing yourfishguyATthefishsociety.co.uk (please replace the AT with @).

Thanks for reading. We’ll be back with more next week, and hopefully by then James might be a bit closer to locating these blinis!

A Picture From Diwali

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While the rest of the world is arguing about interest rates, politics and the global unemployment crisis, millions of Indians are presently celebrating Diwali — the most lavish and vibrant spiritual festival found anywhere on the planet.

What’s the most popular of all the South Asian festivals got to do with The Fish Society? A fair bit, actually. Sapna are the Indian company who look after all the technical stuff for the website, and the recent SEO project which Joleen has been working on inspired her to create this delightful rangoli drawing, typical of Diwali-style art and celebration. Thanks to Shekhar for sending it in (more about rangoli at the end of this post).

Diwali, which is celebrated every year between October and November – the specific date varies according to the Hindu calendar – is stunning. Dressed in white, people everywhere forget about their problems and dance, throwing powder colours of blue, yellow and intense red into the air, forming clouds which can be seen high above the ground. Inside the houses, altars are constructed – shrines to Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth – and in the offices, those in business start their new financial year with the promise of good things to come. But nowhere is Diwali more breathtaking than at the mighty river Ganges. Making their way to the river in heaving masses, people gather at its edge to sail lamps across its width (and if yours makes it all the way across then this is considered a very good thing). The word Diwali means row of lights, according to the Sanskrit word dipavali. As a result, millions of people know this infamous extended party as The festival of lights.

With such a unique atmosphere, it’s easy to see why it’s called the festival of lights. Within just a few hours, cities are converted into places of mass worship, and as night falls, shops, houses and public places are transformed with the use of divas – earthenware oil lamps, powered by mustard oil. Within 24 hours of the festival’s arrival, no area remains untouched, and legend has it that the lamps help to guide Lakshmi through the doors of people’s homes, where a pleasant reception awaits her.

Rangoli is also an artistic past-time which a great many people enjoy taking part in, and many of these images show the goddess Lakshmi holding a lotus or seated on one. Traditionally, the images are drawn on the floor, like the above picture. According to Joleen, this is only her second attempt at the technique, and one which The Fish Society is pleased to be a part of!

Tale of 2 tins…

Background: Customer wrote us a fantastic review. We sent him a freebie by post of 2 tins of fish. We didn’t tell hom they were coming. He acknowledged as follows:

Hello Fish Society!

Many thanks for the gift of two tins of sardines. My wife, who was raised in Vietnam, had been grumbling about the kids banging the house doors as the handles were damaging the walls, so I ordered two white rubber door stops from Amazon. Believing your package contained these, I handed it unopened to my daughter’s boyfriend, asking him telling him to screw them behind the kitchen and lounge doors, as it would stop the damage and make my wife happy. Later, I heard discussion and my daughter’s boyfriend telling Dominique ‘Maybe this is what they use in Vietnam’.

Intervening prior to any damage to the sardines with a Black & Decker drill, and after considering sending a pithy email to Amazon suggesting they were taking their company name too seriously, I found the enclosed note and the surreal moment passed.

The sardines were delicious, and when the doorstops arrived next day and were not mistaken for clams, my wife was doubly happy. Thanks again for your kindness, much appreciated. We will be re-ordering next week – ghaa, now if only Amazon sold freezer locks.

Very best wishes from London

Alastair

PS from James at The Fish Soc

This is not an invitation to write us a fantastic review for reward. We have 487 fantastic reviews but these 2 tins were the only thankyou ever made for a review.