A Fishy Fix

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Fish market, Catania, Sicily

Of all the workshops I do, the fishy ones are probably my faves. We kick off with a visit to the fish counter of a nearby supermarket to check out what’s on offer and get familiar with the names – in English (for most of us the working language), French (France has the freshest and best fish offer in our three-country corner) and German (for those shopping in Switzerland or Germany). Next day we cook up our fishy feast.

The thinking behind my workshops is that everyone’s got all the cookbooks and recipes they can handle – plus the internet. I need to offer something more, so the idea – with all workshops, but especially  fish – is to do a bunch of recipes that showcase different techniques and to work with perhaps unfamiliar fish and shellfish. I love taking people out of their customary fishy comfort zones. Examples can include a tartare of raw fish; a fish stew (the Catalan suquet is a good one) in which I include a bunch of lesser-known, humbler fish that are often overlooked (coley, huss, gurnard etc.); a superior whole fish on the bone done in the oven or on the bbq (turbot, brill or a big sea bass); and maybe something in pastry (strudel or brik).

Usually I throw in a dish featuring the humble mussel, a greatly underestimated little mollusc that’s capable of rising out of its gleaming black shell to produce something startlingly delish…like this vaguely Thai-inspired creation. It’s not quite a soup, not quite a pilaff, not really a stew either – and it’s a bit more spunky than moules marinières, which are so last-century (albeit yummy).

If possible, buy those ready-cleaned, vacuum-packed mussels (from Ireland or Holland, usually) – this will save you a lot of grunt work scrubbing and removing beards. Then do all the prep work ahead (cook and shell the mussels, make the sauce) and when you’re ready to roll, combine the two, reheat and serve them over rice (black or Thai) with a parting shower of coriander/cilantro or parsley leaves.

MUSSELS IN COCONUT MILK AND THAI CURRY SAUCE WITH RICE

moules in coconut milk sauce, black rice (3)Serves 4 for mains, 8 for a starter
1.4 kg mussels in the shell
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 large piece ginger, sliced
1 stick lemongrass, chopped
Optional: 1 red chili, cut in two
Fingernail-sized pieces of lime zest, pared off with potato peeler
1-2 tsps Thai green or red curry paste
1 x 400ml can coconut milk
250g Thai or black rice
Flat-leaf parsley or coriander/cilantro leaves to garnish

  • Tip mussels into a sink full of cold water, scrub well, pull out any beards and discard any that stay open when tapped firmly or which smell suspicious.
  • Put mussels in a large pan with shallot, ginger, lemongrass, optional chili and lime zest. Cover the pan and cook over high heat until all are gaping open and the flesh has pulled away from the shells (5-8 minutes) – give the pan a vigorous shake now and then.
  • Set a large colander over a bowl, remove pan from the heat and tip the mussels into the colander. Scoop the mussels off the shells, put them in a bowl and refrigerate them.
  • Carefully pour 250ml/1 cup mussel juices into a measuring cup, making sure you leave the sand behind, and reserve. (You can strain the rest and freeze it for another use.)
  • When you’re ready to go, cook the rice in boiling salted water according to directions on the packet.
  • Put reserved mussel juice into a saucepan, whisk in the curry paste and the coconut milk. Simmer for 5 minutes, add the mussels and let them heat through for a minute or two (don’t overcook or they will toughen).
  • Divide the rice between the bowls, spoon mussels and sauce on top and garnish with parsley or coriander/cilantro leaves.

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