Autumn larder – fish and seafood
The water may be getting icy as the darkness of autumn lengthens, but for much of Scotland’s seafood this is coming into the optimum season. As the oily fish of spring and summer begin to become a distant memory, the cod family arrives in numbers as the seas remain a bountiful source.
There’s many a debate around whether cod or haddock is better. When I lived in England, cod seemed to be favoured, but in Scotland haddock is generally the winner. The mainstay of the chippie, this fish lends itself to so many incarnations – smoked, breaded, and battered automatically spring to mind. However fresh haddock has a wonderful flavour which stands up on its own, and my recipe with baby leeks and butter simply cooked en papillote is simplicity itself.
Fish and chips, and fish fingers must evoke memories for just about everyone in the country. My Saturday afternoons are often spent with my children making fish fingers, trying to perfect the ‘wet hand dry hand’ technique to varying degrees of mess and success. I tend to use whiting as it’s inexpensive, cooks easily, and lends itself to being shaped. For fish and chips I often go to plaice, an underrated but delicious fish, readily available in autumn, and according to my fishmonger, particularly good this year.
Monkfish is a rare treat, and therefore inspires a little more thought. It gives the perfect meaty backbone to my seafood soup that is inspired by the classic dishes of the Mediterranean. However when roasted as a main course, the salty sweet luxury of Serrano ham is the ideal seasoning. Surrounded by the tang of capers, and the acidity of lemon butter cutting through, this is the perfect throwback to summer days of sunshine and rosé by the sea. When the days move from looking back to summer to gazing towards winter and I want something a little more comforting I prefer smoked fish, occasionally cod or hake, but usually peat smoked haddock. And when seeking a simple one-pot option then rice is the number one partner, either a delicate risotto with a backnote of white wine, or a kedgeree which fits as well for breakfast as it does in the evening.
Autumn is also the perfect season for seafood. Mussels strike fear into the heart of many, but they have such a wonderful flavour it’s well worth getting over that fear to become acquainted with this inexpensive and abundantly available shellfish. The labour of love of debearding usually takes longer than the cooking and eating process, but nonetheless the addition of onion, a little booze, and a good drizzle of cream is a perfect midweek meal to share from a communal bowl.
And when you like your seafood to have a little bit of a kick then look no further than crab and chilli, this is a match made in heaven, especially with the addition of a little citrus. The fishcakes are a throwback to the days when my Gran would make fish patties for dinner, while ravioli is a wonderful afternoon of fun in the kitchen with the kids, getting a little creative with fillings and taking turns on the pasta machine.
Third article in Scottish Daily Mail Autumn Larder series