Ahead of his marine-themed Demo Kitchen residency, Luke Mackay offers a heartfelt paean to the wonders of seasonal, sustainable British fish
For the five Thursdays in June, I will be cooking fish. Lots of fish, from crunchy salty sardine bones to whole roast John Dory. From creamy scallop roe on toast to salt and pepper squid. Twenty fish, shellfish and cephalopod recipes for your delectation. Oh, and some sea urchin, which I didn’t know how to classify. All of the recipes that I cover will contain a main ingredient fished from British waters in the month of June. Much of it will be from day boats or line caught and none is on any endangered list.
I could (and would) have done 200 more, such is the bounty of our coast, and it continues to break my heart that we don’t eat more of it. Supermarkets still vac-pack Chilean farmed sea bass and it flies off the shelves, with a little disk of herb butter adding a quid to the price. That the fish was probably swimming around more than 2 weeks previously seems to matter little to a society where convenience is everything.
I have written here before about the shocking decline in herring fishing in this country, about the prawns we fly from Thailand while sending our beautiful langoustine to Spain. Our depleted harbours and fishing fleets serve only as monuments, curiosities for tourists and memories of a time long gone.
I hate supermarket fish, I really do. It doesn’t smell right, feel right, cook right or most importantly, taste right. A fresh piece of fish, one that that swam yesterday, cooked simply in a pan with plenty of sea salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon is one of foods greatest joys. You simply can’t replicate it with fish that has ended up in your kitchen via a supermarket—it is literally impossible. I am not a writer talented enough to explain why—it’s the feel, the iodine, the sweetness. Like a raspberry off the bush or a carrot from the ground there is a FEELING about things fresh and there is no substitute in science.
Make-up on a baby
When I was writing the 20 recipes that I’ll be cooking during my residency I was struck by how simple they were. Most are not more than five or six ingredients and some just three. None are more than five steps. Many end with “season with salt, pepper and lemon”. I would no more mess around with a fresh piece of fish than I would put make-up on my baby daughter. Both are perfect and to add would be to detract.
When you find your freshest of fish, treat it like a jewel, like the most precious treat. Watch it like a new parent as it cooks, baste it with golden butter and cry happy tears as a burnished exterior gives way to a translucent pearly white centre. Some flakes of good salt and a cold glass of something flinty and white and your soul will find temporary peace and you will, I promise, smile.
Join Luke for tips, tastings and recipes every Thursday in June in the Market Hall, 12:30-2pm