Thinking of cracking good fish and chips or a haddock chowder to celebrate the Queen’s Jubilee and the Olympics? The photograph by Simon Wheeler of beer dipped fish in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Nick Fisher‘s The River Cottage Fish Book (Ten Speed 2012) will make you wistful for the dock of Oben or the chip shop you once went to tucked in a side street of London. Follow the recipe for Fish in Beer Batter (p. 326-7) and you’ll turn out an excellent fry, not to mention your own ketchup.
Do you need this huge volume of fishy knowledge? Absolutely. Hugh and his fishermen expert Nick take you through the ins and outs of sourcing fish and how to choose the best for your table. There are how-to photographs showing how to gut, fillet, and skin all sorts of fish – flat, round, spiny. You’ll learn how to clean and dismember a squid and how to deal with sea urchin. Once you have all this prepared seafood, it is time to eat – first raw and marinated. There is a good recipe for Ceviche (p. 141) and very British Cider Vinegar and Orange Rollmops (p. 147) and Soused Mackerel (p. 148).
If you’ve shied away from cooking fish on the grill, sticking to easier to manage steaks and kabobs, then Hugh’s rules on cooking fish on an open grill will change your mind. He has a list of five rules (p. 189), which include #3:
OIL THE FISH: Now it’s time to cook. You’ll need to lightly oil the fish, not the grill. Your fingertips are the best tools for this job. Dip them into a saucer of oil – olive, sunflower or peanut – and massage it evenly all over the skin of the fish, which should be completely dry before the oil goes on. (p. 191). There is a cunning recipe for Trout Newspaper Parcels (p. 200) in which the burnt paper seals in the trout and peals away the skin, leaving moist flesh.
The second half of the book is a guide to fish and shellfish, with photographs of each fish, description, and a guide to eating. There is Hugh, kneeling and holding a fine salmon in his hands (p. 509) or staring into the eyes of a prawn (p. 543). The text is personal, readable, and informative. These are European fish, but you’ll find most in American fish markets.
The River Cottage Fish Book is a well-written cookbook and fish and shellfish guide. There is even a chapter on thrifty ways of cooking fish, including the wonderful Anglo-Indian dish Kedgeree (p. 393) – more than enough to celebrate Queen and country.