Finding tastiness in and around London... and sometimes at the back of the fridge...

Monday, 20 August 2012

Fish and Fossils

I woke up pretty early today. This is despite having had a 3am nightmare about sperm whales which meant that my boyfriend had to go and get me some water (I couldn't go myself in case a ghost tried to loom at me). As a sort of apology I thought I'd plan the day for him. This involved learning everything on the Lyme Regis Wikipedia page before he woke up so that I could bombard him with amazing facts over breakfast. As it transpired, he wasn’t particularly interested that until 1780, Lyme Regis was bigger than Liverpool. It was the prospect of Dinosaurland that reeled him in.

After seriously damaging our hire car by hitting a wall whilst trying to avoid a skip, we were on our way to Lyme Regis and sea-foodie heaven.

If you're in Lyme Regis you'll obviously need to wander up the beach in Mary Anning's footsteps for a quick fossil hunt, and climb 'granny's steps' on the Cobb (where Louisa Musgrove fell in Persuasion), but never mind that. Food highlights are as follows:

The Town Mill Bakery
Behind the rest of the Mill, with its twee gift shops and art galleries, is the bakery. The fresh bread is so wonderful-looking that they've installed tables, benches and massive butter dishes for those that just can't wait until they get home.

The Town Mill Cheesemonger
This tiny cheesemonger situated in the main mill 'complex' is home to some wonders. All the best local stuff (such as the famously pungent and slightly appley Dorset Blue Vinney) sits alongside some of the best cheeses in the world. Ask Justin for recommendations: he's clearly a bit of an aficionado.

The Town Mill Brewery
Smell the malt, watch the brewing process, and taste the wonderful beers at this great tourist-friendly brewery. My favourite was the Lyme Gold, as I'm into 'hoppy' stuff, but the Black Ven (named after the famous fossil-hunting site) is also wonderful.

Yum yum. Fish and chips in a cute kiosk by the Cobb. An indescribable improvement on what you might find in London's touristic kebab house-come-chip shops and considerably cheaper. Their fresh fish is sourced from The Old Watch House (see below).

The Old Watch House
A favourite of Hugh Fearnley-Whittenstall, the Old Watch House sells wonderful fresh fish at a good price. We bought two pints of prawns, two whole lemon sole and a generous handful of samphire for £17. See below for how we cooked it all.

Cafe Sol
This traditional little place is nothing special, but cream tea for two at £3.60 is not to be sniffed at, and the quiet setting away from the main sea-front is really pleasant. Dorset Clotted Cream and homemade jam topped off a lovely foodie day.

Buying fresh fish can be scary if you don't know what to do with it, but the satisfaction once you’re done (and the taste) means that it’s definitely worth the risk. We had great fun filleting our delicious lemon sole whilst following instructions on YouTube: all you need is a sharp knife and access to the Internet.

Lemon sole, samphire and new potatoes with prosecco and prawns to start.

If you're using fresh ingredients then don't try to mask the taste with loads of herbs and strong flavours: simple rules.

1. Fillet your fish. Set fillets to one side then put the bones and leftover meat into simmering water. This will be your stock.

2. Whilst your fish stock starts to happen, put your new potatoes on to boil - this always takes longer than you think so it’s good to start early. Put them in ‘whole’, or if they’re particularly big, just half them. You’ll end up with nasty saturated tatties otherwise.

3. Whilst your new potatoes are getting soft, have a glass of prosecco and tuck into your prawns. If the prawns are fresh then they won't need a marinade, but if not a simple favourite of mine is chopped chilli, fresh ginger (peeled and sliced), a glug of sake, a few tablespoons of soy sauce, lemongrass and a squeeze of lime. If you’re cooking the prawns in the marinade afterwards then add some sesame oil (go easy on the chilli if you're eating with your hands: I learnt this the hard way). If you’re using the marinade then you’ll want to have the prawns resting in it at the beginning.

4. Once you’ve finished your starter, take the potatoes off the boil and out of the water, season and add butter. Shake around the pan so that they're nice and crushed (but not mashed or disintegrated). Set to one side to cool a little (but not too much!)

5. Take the fish bones out of your stock, which should have reduced to a pale gravy-like consistency. Chuck the fish bones but chuck the stock into a large pan.

5. Put your samphire on to steam and fry your lemon sole fillets in a bit of butter. Neither will need long. Once done, put to one side with your tatties.

6. Add a good amount of freshly chopped parsley and lemon to the stock. Season well and add a dollop of butter. Your stock is now a deliciously fishy sauce!

7. Put it all together on a plate. I recommend potatoes and samphire on the bottom, sole on top, then the sauce.

Nothing fancy, but still delish.