December brochure 2016

3 ways to crack crab claws

There is always 1000 ways to do something, breaking into crab claws is no exception. We wanted to show our customers and interested parties on the internet 3 very simple ways to break into crab claws. We used English crab claws in this video which have one of the toughest shells to break into so these methods should work well for king crab or snow crab.

 

The cod chronicles: 2 – Popular with tourists

POPULAR WITH TOURISTS

Kingklip is unknown to spellcheckers. It’s one word with two ks. It’s not king clip, kingclip or even king klip. It’s kingklip.

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Kingklip is also unknown to the British public. It’s from South Africa, where it’s highly-regarded. South African expats in the UK had called and emailed The Fish Society for years asking why we did not sell kingklip. I asked our suppliers but even the few who had heard of it were unable to offer it. “No demand”, they said.

Then I tracked down Mike. I’ve never met him but from his accent, I know he’s South African. He lives in London and seems to work from his back bedroom organising deliveries of fresh fish from South Africa to the UK. I found Mike via a corner shop with a website. It wasn’t just a corner shop – it also stocked a few South African deli items. That explained the website – for the South African items. But not for the kingklip. To get that, you had to call at the shop. I sympathised. We know exactly how difficult it is to deliver fish around the country in retail quantities.

So, having had to fend off many enquirers over the years who could not understand why our range of 400 kinds of fish did not include their favourite, here it was – a glorious solo act in a glorified corner shop in West London. How did this corner shop get it? Could we get it too?

People are understandably protective of valuable information like where they get their kingklip from. As you can see, I’m not making it easy for my commercial rivals to track Mike down. So I approached this task with some hesitation. Ideally, I’d want to buy from the same source as the corner shop. But if they weren’t willing to divulge who that was, I’d be happy to buy from them instead. So I dialled the corner shop. They were totally relaxed – “You need to talk to Mike. He gets it for us. Hang on a minute, here’s his number…”

So there it was. You’ve given up hope of getting kingklip, then all of a sudden it lands in your lap.

“Yeah”, Mike told me. “I did some kingklip for Morrisons a few years ago but they got bored and stopped it. My main business is hake and tuna. But a South African friend who runs a little shop – he asked me for some so I got a box put on the hake delivery.”

I have a picture in my mind’s eye of 60 boxes of hake and one of kingklip being unloaded from the cargo hold of a South African Airways 747.

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It would have been very handy to buy just one box of kingklip. But Mike is not quite as accommodating to me as to his mate in the corner shop. I had to buy eight boxes of kingklip fillets. That’s a lot of fish given that your platform is about ten expatriate South Africans and five returning tourists who over the years have asked you for kingklip.

But Hey! Nice fish! When you get fish from a new supplier, there are always a few nervous days pending its arrival, when you just have to hope you’re dealing with good guys. You wouldn’t buy from someone who didn’t sound right. But still, there’s plenty of scope for misjudgments. Generally, you have paid for your first consignment upfront. So there’s no going back. I’ve only once had to throw out a consignment from a new customer. Fortunately, it was just £50 worth of seaweed. I just hope the next one isn’t £5,000 worth of prawns.

When we opened the boxes of that first shipment from Mike, we found beautiful large very fresh fillets with brilliant mottled orange and red skin. And nicely filleted. All we had to do was cut the large fillets into portion sized steaks and freeze them. And cook some up. Excellent!

Then we put them up for sale on our website. We were the only people selling kingklip in the UK. Were those ten expats still here? Would some new returning tourists find us?

We did make a few South Africans happy. And a few tourists. But it took time…  18 months to knock out that first consignment. The second consignment took ten months and the third about six months. Now, restaurants and banquet-providers come to us for kingklip. 80 portions for a dinner; 200 for a lunch… thankyou very much. But the main business is with our regular retail customers, who are buying fish to eat at home. And not just South Africans.

I wonder how many of them realise that – horror of horrors—kingklip is an eel. At least on the basis that it has a vaguely similar fin arrangement including no tail fin. But unlike the really eely end of the eel spectrum, it has very low-fat white flesh. If you remove its skin, most people could mistake a piece of kingklip for a piece of cod. It has a delicate taste and is super low in fat.

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Update – October 2016 – Oh dear – Mike says his kingklip supply line is closing down.

Christmas Brochure 2016

The cod chronicles: 1 – Giant purchase

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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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).

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