Fishing for compliments….cooking fish at Penshurst market (recipes included)


Spectacular Penshurst Place on Saturday morning once the fog had lifted

Last Saturday morning I was up at 5.30am making a big pot of chowder to take along with me to our second Fish Day at Penshurst farmers’ market. Paul of Arcade Fisheries and I were once again teaming up to show visitors to the market how to prepare and cook fish that they might be unfamiliar with. Paul would be chatting about the fishing and how to handle and prepare fish whilst I would be cooking and offering tastings. Last May we had a lot of fun doing the same format, and I was looking forward to another cheery morning talking and tasting fish.


Wonderful fresh fish up from Hastings

Wonderful fresh fish up from Hastings

Driving off in bright spring sunshine from my cottage in Hartfield, boot loaded with pots of soup, prepared ingredients and cooking equipment, I watched the car’s thermometer drop with the thickening fog, and I started wishing I’d worn my thermals. This time last year I was staying at Everest base camp in a tent and missed the April market but managed to stay warm despite temperatures of -20C. And I really hate being cold! But luckily the rushing around getting set up kept me warm (a cup of my wonderful smoked cod and chorizo chowder helped a lot – recipe below) and I was soon happily chatting to the usual queue of customers for Paul’s wonderful fish. Fresh out of Hastings and in the finest condition, it is a joy to cook with. (And the sun soon broke through the fog.)

P3010008So I kept things simple. We started with a comparative tasting – I pan fried Dover sole and lemon sole fillets in a dash of the PureKent rapeseed oil I always use to cook fish. It has a sweet light buttery taste and lack of bitterness which goes so well with delicate flavours, and it has a high burning point so is ideal for frying. Customers got to taste the two fish side by side and realise that while the firm meaty flesh of the Dover is a wonderful treat, the lower budget lemon sole is no slacker for flavour. More delicate and sweet tasting than its more expensive namesake, it’s a great choice for family cooking – and we managed to convert several initially reluctant children to the joys of good fish. I served both fish with a simple salsa verde (see recipe below) made with parsley, garlic, walnuts and lemon.

P3010010The chowder, made with Paul’s beautiful smoked cod (he smokes all his own fish himself – his hot smoked salmon and haddock are also well balanced, full of flavour but not over-smoked), was simmering away next to me and getting an enthusiastic response too. I’d made it with chorizo from Sussex Smokers, also Penhurst regulars, and although I hadn’t managed to get any of Kingcott Farm Karen’s Jersey milk in time,  would recommend local full cream milk for the recipe if you can get it, for a rich creamy soup that picks up the flavours of the fish really well. I then cooked up some perfect skate (more accurately ray) wings with a classic brown butter and caper sauce but found I was already preaching to the converted, and those who hadn’t tried skate seemed reluctant to do so!

So it was time to branch out a bit and give the punters some fish they might not have tried. Gurnard is an ugly customer but looks aren’t everything. Paul filleted several of these with his usual deft touch, and I fried them for a minute or two on each side. Skin on adds to the final flavour but remember to cook the non-skin side first, or the skin will shrink up in the heat and produce an uneven fillet. The gurnard were meaty with a pleasant flavour not unlike the more expensive (and at risk) monkfish (another loser in the beauty stakes that delivers on taste!). And as Paul said, they are a by-product of the catch so are a good choice for those who want to eat ethically. All tasters were converted, with most buying gurnard to take home with them. Brill received the same accolade.

By 11am the surge of visitors was slowing to a trickle, the soup was all gone, so I managed to get my own market shop done – a tray of eggs from Jennie at Far Acre Farm as I’m doing lots of baking for my WI book at the moment, bread from Rusbridge’s, chicken liver pate from Naked and Ready, and two fine Dover sole from Paul to continue the fish theme for supper. And yes, his fish is so good I still wanted to cook more in the evening! Dusted the whole fish with seasoned flour, pan fried and served with the leftover salsa verde, the first Jersey Royals of the season, and purple sprouting broccoli. Heaven…


Smoked cod chowder with new potatoes and chorizo

Smoked cod, chorizo and mussel chowder

Smoked cod, chorizo and mussel chowder

Serves 4 – 6/Prepare 10 minutes /Cook 25 minutes

25g butter
1 bunch spring onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
200g smoked cod fillet, cut into chunks
100g diced chorizo
1 kg small new potatoes, halved
1 litre full cream milk
300g can sweetcorn, drained
750g fresh mussels (optional)
small bunch fresh chives, snipped
salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 Heat the butter in a large pan and add the spring onion, garlic and chorizo. Cook over a low heat for 3 – 5 minutes until really soft but not browned. Add the potatoes and stir to coat in the juices for a minute or two.

2 Pour in the milk and bring to the boil. Simmer gently for 12 -15 minutes until the potatoes almost cooked through. Add the fish for the last 5 minutes. Stir in the sweetcorn and chives.

3 Meanwhile prepare the mussels if using. Rinse in cold water, discarding any that are cracked or don’t close when tapped to the pan and remove the ‘beards’. Add to the pan, cover and simmer gently for 2 -3 minutes, shaking the pan until the mussels open. Discard any that stay closed. Check seasoning to taste. Serve with crusty bread.
Grilled sole with walnut salsa verde

You could make this salsa verde in a processor but for such a small amount it will be easier and have a better texture if done by hand. If you have the ingredients make double or even triple to store in the fridge and spoon onto baked potatoes, serve with burgers or stirred into pasta as an instant sauce

Serves 2/Prepare 10 minutes/Cook 6 minutes

2 large sole fillets, about 175g (6oz) each or 2 whole Dover sole
2 tbsp seasoned flour
1 clove garlic
1 tsp capers
25g walnut pieces
small handful flat-leafed parsley, finely chopped
grated rind and juice of ½ lemon
2 tbsp good quality extra virgin olive oil or cold pressed rapeseed oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 Prepare the salsa verde. Finely chop the garlic, capers, walnut pieces and parsley. Mix with the lemon juice and rind, and half the olive oil. Season to taste.

2 Put the seasoned flour on a flat plate and dip the fish on both sides shaking off any excess. Heat the oil in a frying pan, add the fish fillets and fry for 2 -3 minutes a side for fillets or 3 -4 minutes for whole until the fish flesh is firm to the touch and the edges are golden. Serve with the salsa verde, new potatoes and steamed purple sprouting broccoli or cauliflower florets.

Sole recipe taken from my The Busy Mum’s Cookbook

Skate with brown butter and caper sauce
When we buy skate, that’s a misnomer. It’s actually likely to be ray (which is how you might find it in supermarkets or in Europe), and one of the smaller species that are not at risk such as blonde ray.

Serves: 4 /Prep: 5 minutes /Cook: 10 minutes

4 small fresh skate wings, 200g-225g each
2 tbsp seasoned flour
75g unsalted butter
juice of 1 lemon
1 tbsp capers, rinsed and roughly chopped
3 tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 Rinse the skate wings and dry thoroughly with kitchen paper. Put flour on a large plate. Lightly dust both sides of the fish with the flour, shaking to remove any excess.

2 Melt 25g of the butter in a large frying pan and cook the skate wings on a medium heat for about 5 minutes on each side, until the flesh is firm and white and the skin is golden. Transfer to warm serving plates, cover with foil and keep warm.

3 Return the pan to a medium heat, add the remaining butter and cook until it turns caramel brown and smells nutty: be careful not to let it burn or it will be bitter. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the lemon juice, capers and chopped parsley. Check the seasoning. Pour the butter over the skate and serve immediately with mashed potato and a steamed green vegetable.

About marygwynn

Food writer, traveller, grower, picker, gatherer, cook...oh and still a busy mum
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