The cod chronicles: 1 – Giant purchase


Of all the 400 kinds of fish we sell, giant king crab would be one of the most scary to meet in real life – a big one can have a leg span of nearly two metres – although one and a half metres of that is, most fortunately, pure leg. Fortunately, because those legs contain the most coveted crab meat in the world. Fortunately, we fishmongers don’t have to deal with the live crab. It comes from the Russian Arctic coast where it’s normally caught and processed on large factory vessels.


The scare factor for your average fishmonger is not the size as such, but the consequence that this giant crab must be packed in giant boxes which wholesale at £700 each. That’s an awful lot of money to lay out on such an expensive product—not a fast mover amongst our retail customers. Most giant king crab goes to upmarket casinos where it’s dished out “ free” to keep high rollers rolling. Of course it’s also favoured on superyachts, in restaurants catering for the mega-rich and (I would suspect) in investment bank dining rooms.

In the trade, it’s sold as a “cluster”—a set of three legs and a claw arm. The clusters we buy are typically the length from your elbow to your knuckle. That £700 box contains about  15 clusters.

Retail customers for £700 boxes are non-existent. Indeed customers for single clusters—at £70 or more—are sparse. Looks impressive but… what do you do with it? We were the first company to put giant king crab on general retail sale in the UK, which was an adventure in itself. We did find a few customers—just enough to keep it flowing, buying a box or two at a time from the one UK stockist. And we figured that cutting the clusters into portion-sized sections was the way to go. It flowed a bit faster.

Then the fishermen had a poor season (funnily enough, just as there was a spate of  headlines along the lines of “Giant Crab Red Army Invades Norway”) and the price jumped 50 per cent. Just as we had established a useful niche, our supplier, Bert, said he was dropping it. His minimum purchase, he explained, had increased to £20,000—the cost of a pallet of those boxes. Working on tight wholesale margins, Bert reckoned his customers—other than us—wouldn’t wear it. So as we eked out his last few boxes, we contemplated… could we import it ourselves? It would be a pity to disappoint the market we had built up. Where to begin?

Google eventually yielded up Alexey in Murmansk, Russia. He had very good English and although he appeared only to Skype from his kitchen, he did seem a genuine fellow who knew about giant king crab. He would not deal in less than a pallet – the full £20,000-worth. This was about £18,000 more than the previous biggest outlay we had ever made on a single purchase. I pitched Bert to take half the pallet. The conversation lasted about 90 seconds. Fortunately, we did have £20,000 available. But…


The problem was the trust. Not unreasonably, Alexey insisted on payment in advance. Not unreasonably, I wasn’t too keen on that. Sounding genuine does not qualify you to receive £20,000 upfront. Bigger traders normally resolve this issue with credit insurance. But at the time The Fish Society barely registered on credit-insurers’ radars and in any case Alexey in his kitchen wasn’t a credit insurer’s kind of customer. We eyeballed each other for a week. Then I made the proposition that we would pay half—£10,000—upfront and the rest on delivery. My book-keeper thought I was bonkers.

But good old Alexey came through. It took a month. Our pallet came from a fishing village with no road access: next stop, Novaya Zemlya. It had to await the arrival of the famous Norwegian Hurtigruten coastal shipping service at its remotest port of call, way over the top of Norway and just miles from Russia. Then our ship with our pallet wended its way slowly back down the Norwegian coast as its tourist passengers gawped at all those beautiful fjords (at a cost—if they were boozing—probably not far off the cost of our pallet) until it reached Bergen where our pallet boarded a ferry for the UK. And eventually us. It was a nail-biting month.


But with a great outcome. We were delighted by the pristine large clusters Alexey sent. And so were our customers. We even sold a few boxes to Bert’s customer.


Why a tailpiece is a most excellent piece of fish

1     Only a PRIME LARGE SPECIMEN of fish is big enough to yield a tailpiece.

2    You cook it on-the-bone (keeps it moist) but after cooking you have two PERFECTLY BONELESS fillet steaks.

3     It is VERY EASY TO COOK – wrap in foil put in oven at 200C for 20 minutes. The two fillets will slide smoothly off the bone.

4     Tailpieces are VERY FAVORABLY PRICED compared with the rest of the SAME FISH (because many people are wrongly dubious about those bones).


A tail piece from black cod. A reasonably priced way to eat black cod.

Hottest fish: September

We are having a little bit of fun here at ‘Fish Palace’ predicting what we think the 5 hottest fish will be to fly out the door this month. It is essentially a guessing game but a range of factors come into play: the changing seasons, special offers, the availability of fish, trending recipes in the media and a whole load of other uncontrollable factors! So here we present our predictions for September and our reasoning behind the group

Cooked American Lobster:

North America is famous for its lobster and they export extensively around the world. On the back of this fact, the quality and the ‘buy 1 get one half price’ deal we are running for the month we put this in the front running position for hottest seller. *Cooked American Lobster*

Lobster Large & Small

Boned Kippers:

Traditional, smoked, convenient and loosely recognised as an Autumnal style of fish. We predict these boned kippers are going to be served upon crusty toast with poached eggs on Sunday mid-mornings up and down the UK during this month. *Boned Kippers*

Breakfast Boned Kippers L

King Prawns with Garlic Butter:

It’s fair to say that we ‘ain’t’ going to be throwing many more prawns on the ‘barbie’ this year. Never the less, king prawns are loved throughout all seasons and we predict that our customers will be looking for an alternate way to get their king prawn fix. What better way than to fry up some beautifully big peeled king prawns with some of our home made garlic butter? *King Prawns with Garlic Butter*


Black Cod Ventresca:

The Black Cod’s elegant reputation precedes itself at any restaurant or dinner party and understandably the price tag usually matches it executive status. This month we have a meaningful special offer on the crafted ventresca cut that will bring the price tag back into the realm of reality. We predict our customers will jump on to this prestigious fish of the deep and attempt their own take on ‘Miso Black Cod’. *Black Cod Ventresca*


Whole Dover Sole:

It is dover sole season and we are reaping the rewards of lots of beautiful fish in all sizes. We are going to be filleting plenty of them this week which we predict will fly out the door as no one really enjoys filleting a sole themselves… *Whole Dover Sole*

Dover Sole



Swedish Crayfish Parties…?!


A much loved summer tradition. In the early 1990’s the crayfish season in Sweden was greatly reduced to a few months of the year, starting from the 1st August, due to over fishing. As their delicacy was so greatly missed through the down season, the Swedes threw lavish summer crayfish parties to mark the start of the season, and the return to their tables.

Nowadays crayfish is imported throughout the year, yet Swedes still maintain their August tradition of these indulgent crayfish parties. I mean…why not? It turns out that these parties are not just unique to Sweden. Many of our customers are ordering crayfish for their British summer parties to add a Swedish twist.

‘lycklig kräftskiva’ – HAPPY CRAYFISH

Get your crayfish here for you mid-summer party

The salmon are running…

The first few months of the ‘2016 wild salmon and sea trout season’ were sedate to say the least. The big players at Billingsgate were eking out 50 fish a day when they might have been expecting 500.

The tables seemed to turn around in mid-July as the season really started moving in the right direction. As the fish flowed down south to the markets, restaurants and ultimately dinner plates, prices became more realistic and we could start buying the prized fish at the right price.

As the season gets going we buy our wild salmon and sea trout from a range of suppliers.  Spreading our eggs among suppliers enables us to have the pick of the best quality fish and maintain stability in our supply chain – keeping British BBQs well stocked through the summer months.

We have been really pleased with the fish caught and sent down from Keith and his first mate Lee who have been catching salmon and trout for us from Northumberland on the England-Scotland border. It’s always a pleasure working directly with the fisherman to get them the best prices and us the best fish.  Below is a picture of the pair pulling in their nets last month, probably with one of our fish in it1The season is now flowing freely, the prices have stabilised, and we want to share our fish with as many people as possible. That is why we are putting a 10% discount on the wild salmon and a 20% discount on the wild sea trout.

Whole Salmon Ice BG

Dressed Lobster: the making of…

Marc our fish manager will easily dress 80 lobsters at a time, at high speed. He is super handy with a knife having spent his earlier career as a chef. I hope for some this will be an interesting video, especially for those who have been searching: how to dress a lobster? If there is another type of fish or shellfish you would like us to show you how to prepare let us know!