Pushing boundaries…

Approximately 15 seconds after taking the above picture, I dropped my fish on the ground. I believe I was the only professionally trained student in the class and the only one who had to pick blades of grass from their fish’s gills. Nice.

I’ve been yammering on about River Cottage in Axminster, England recently, for example here and here. After our weekend vacation to Axminster, John headed back to Norwich for work, and I stayed on to take the Fish Class. I knew we’d be working with the whole fish, partly the reason I signed up. Fillet’s really don’t jive with the mission of River Cottage, and my goal was to stare each fish straight in the eye and tackle any bubbling squeamishness. I needed a mentor to take away the mystery of working with a whole fish, someone to guide me through and make it seem everyday. And that… I found.

Truth be told, I was most excited about our striped British aprons…

Other than facing fears, learning to work with whole, strange fish and wearing striped aprons, the coolest part was the never-ending supply of food and drinks. After being greeted with french-press coffee, we were offered small “scones” that looked a whole lot like pancakes to this American. A bit later, we were offered a fisherman’s toddy. After that, spiked cider, more coffee and every hour or so, we were eating some sort of fish. The day finished up with a piece of Moroccan spiced baked pollack, prepared by us, alongside a constant stream of incredibly delicious bowls from the kitchen, including the braised leeks and pureed celeriac root, shown below with my baked pollack in the center.

The two talented chefs below taught us how to: fillet, hot-smoke and bake mackerel – fillet, cold-smoke and bake pollack – shuck oysters using two techniques (one from either end!) – clean squid and fry calamari – shuck scallops with the roe on and off – break down a crab – fillet and pan-sear dab and there’s gotta be more, but I’m plum tapped out.

Steve and Neil couldn’t have been more generous with their knowledge. Looking back, I found exactly what I hoped to find at the River Cottage Fish Class. Considering halfway through I wasn’t even fazed when asked to scoop the eyes from my fish’s head in preparation for fish stock, I am living proof that human beings become comfortable with whatever is perceived as normal, and at River Cottage, using the whole animal is considered status quo. I truly hope the memory of that feeling is one souvenir that I can take home and share.

xo – Organic Spark

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