It was 2.10am when I saw Liam’s car head lights illuminate my road as he drove towards me. We were meeting at my place before heading up in convoy with Alistair and Arc to go and have a nose around Billingsgate fish market.
Nowadays, it has become rare that we would go to Billingsgate to buy our fish. As our supply network has grown, more often than not we only buy one or two products from an individual supplier as close to the source as possible. For example, potted shrimps from Southport shrimps, smoked eel from the Dutch Eel Company and halibut from the halibut farm in Gigha…..you get the picture. We have taken on a few new people and were looking for a bit of a ‘school trip’, we decided that a few of us would make the Billingsgate trip and conclude the learning experience with bacon sandwiches at dawn.
Liam and I underestimated how long it would take to get there and were playing catch up to Alistair’s party. We arrived at 3.30am and found Alistair, who had already brought about 90kg of fish. He seemed somewhat perturbed by the passing comment of a fish merchant, ‘you should have got here earlier and you ‘woulda’ had that’.
The market was smaller than I had imagined. But, what it lacked in size, it overcompensated in variation and energy. Each trader had carved out their respective section and maximised their displays and offerings. Most exciting to me were the exotic stands, full of fish I had yet to learn the names of. 10 species of grouper, 4 types of fish they called snapper yet lacked common appearance, Bombay duck; a fish that naturally smells horrific and is named after the Bombay mail train.
Alistair hadn’t been to the market in a number of years and was enjoying a good catch up with traders who the company had been buying fish from for over a decade. These catch ups usually concluded in a few extra boxes of fish being ferried out to the vehicles by an army of whizzing pallet pump truck controllers weaving around the market with a seasoned skill.
At around 4.30am the market’s visiting population had moved from professionals buying fish for businesses, to groups of Asian tourists and enthusiastic home cooks. Up until our visit, I hadn’t considered an early morning inner-city fish market to be a tourist attraction. I now see the appeal; it’s loud, full of strange sights and ultimately a unique experience.
Once our vehicles were just about full, we set off around the market buying a few bits and bobs for ourselves. We were led by Alistair who was recommending good buys and where we would be wise to steer clear. We brought Tesco bags full of king prawns, sacks of amandes de mer and some nice whole sea bass.
Billingsgate is an experience! I would recommend it to anyone who has an interest in seafood or food in general. Each fish, clam and crab has a story behind how it found its way to the market. If you’ve got the time and the desire, you can find out a lot about how seafood from around the world finds its way onto plates by taking a trip down the fish market.
1 XL monkfish fillet
Salt & Pepper
Salt and pepper
Kashmiri chilli powder
- Marinate the fillet in a tbsp of garlic paste, chopped green chilli, 1 tsp of dried turmeric, 1 tsp of garam masala, 2 tbsp of lemon juice, salt, pepper, chopped fresh coriander and yoghurt. Cover and leave to marinate for 4 hours in the fridge.
- Heat a griddle style pan to a medium heat, drizzle in olive oil. Place the monkfish on the griddle and fry for 6 minutes, then turn and fry for an additional 2-3 minutes. Apply any additional marinade to the top of the monkfish whilst it is frying.
- Using half a cup of yoghurt mix in a tsp of Kashmiri chilli powder and lemon juice. Add more to taste.
- Rest the monkfish for 3-4 minutes before slicing and laying on your tangy yoghurt dip.
Silky white venus clams through the door this morning from Holland. They are great in pasta with a little olive oil, onion and garlic. There is a recipe on our venus clams page – have a look – https://goo.gl/JYSx24
In this video, one of our talented filters performs a canoe cut on a European Atlantic sea bass. We have only just started selling this ‘ready 2 stuff’ fish. All but the pin bones have been removed from the bass making it easy for you in your home. The skill is shown by not cutting through the bottom of the fish into the belly. By keeping the bottom sealed it will lock in the moisture and flavour from the stuffing.
Over the years gurnard hasn’t been a star of the show, partly because of its obscure winged appearance. Trawler-men would throw them back and lobster fisherman would use them for bait. In recent years it’s humble reputation has changed as top chefs such as Nathan Outlaw are promoting modern gurnard recipes. In other countries such as New Zealand, gurnard is placed in very high regard. Gurnard is a good choice of wild Atlantic fish from a sustainability perspective.
Red mullet is packed full of flavour and has been adored throughout history. 2,000 years ago, show off Romans had a mania for red mullet. According to Suetonius, prices reached 10,000 sesterces per fish… about ten times the working man’s annual wage. All of our red mullet is from the British coast. Don’t be fooled you may commonly see cheap red mullet but I can almost guarantee you that it is Indo-Pacific goatfish being sold as red mullet.
John dory is a peculiar looking fish. The john dory has a most impressive mouth that hugely overextends to snatch up its small live prey. The john dory has a black spot on each side of it’s body that is said to be the thumbprint of St.Peter. The Japanese love john dory to make sashimi because of its delicate white flesh, they call it ‘Matoudai’. Read this luxurious john dory in an orange glaze recipe to get the mouth-watering.
Morecombe bay is synonymous with potted shrimps. ‘Potted shrimps’ are peeled brown British shrimps that are cooked in clarified butter and then set in the butter. The traditional accompaniment is a generous pile of thinly sliced bread and butter and a pot of tea. But you should try tipping a pot onto a very hot crispy baked potato. Check out this video to watch some of the catch methods.