One of the joys of living on the coast is being able to buy freshly caught fish. At Aldeburgh in Suffolk the few fishermen who still exist possess little shacks on the beach where they sell what they have caught that morning.
Some of them supplement their catch with fish landed at Lowestoft further up the coast but one in particular (Dean Fryer) only sells fish that he has caught from his tiny boat that same morning. Any unsold fish at the end of the morning gets sold off to the nearby restaurants and hotels.
At this time of year cod is the main catch and the fishermen will tell you that stocks in the North Sea are plentiful. And as they are catching fish using lines and tiny nets their little industry is sustainable (though not terribly lucrative and certainly a tough one to work in).
The downside of buying cod caught that same morning is that it's too fresh to eat the same day. It has little flavour and is quite watery textured. It's firmer and more flavoursome a couple of days later. Ironically, it's very firm to the touch when spanking fresh but on cooking goes floppy. Oily or semi oily fish like herring and sea bass are best however eaten the day they are caught.
The best thing to do with a whole cod is to poach it, preferably in cod stock, and serve it cold with garlic mayonnaise or herby green sauce. In the south of France a whole fish will be laid out in the middle of the table surrounded by various cold vegetables and crudités, small bowls of garlic mayonnaise (aïoli) for dipping and halved boiled eggs. Snails will be sprinkled over the fish and jugs of rosé wine will ensure no one goes thirsty. The dish is called Le Grand Aïoli. Occasionally, poached salt cod (morue) will be used instead.
Making fish stock is really easy if, like here, you have access to fish bones and heads. Oily fish is not suitable but any white fish will do. Turbot and Dover Sole are supposed to make the best, but cod is good too. Poaching fish in fish stock gives the fish more depth of flavour. And afterwards, you can reduce this stock and make a soup or a tasty risotto.
To poach a cod you need a kettle like the one pictured here.
Simply cover the fish with cold stock, bring back to the boil, remove from the heat, and allow to cool down in the stock.
This is the perfect recipe for those nervous about over cooking fish.
Cod cooked like this is delicious served with a sauce verte (green sauce or salsa verde) made from herbs, capers, garlic and anchovies. The umami-rich anchovies help the cod taste more like cod. Green lentils from Le Puy make a good, earthy foil.
And to drink, something dry, crisp, fresh and mineral like the unoaked Chablis above, or Muscadet, Sancerre, rosé de Provence... For those less francophile, there are some very good vinho verde being made now in northern Portugal, or there is Rias Baixas from across the border in Spain. From Italy, Soave would be good.
That's a fantastic view up the coast. Fresh fish is something I love, and can be both hard, and expensive, to get in London. But when you do get it, the taste is wonderful. Particularly the mackerel. I've never trued poaching a fish whole like this, and when I get a bigger kitchen, a kettle like that will be very high on the list. A deceptively easy and tasty dish methinks.
Great post Patrick. Dean has a bad rep for catching undersized Lobbies! Extraordinary useful fact about so called freshness in white fish. Skate is the same non. And yet 1 hour old mackerel is already getting past it.
Completely agree about Mackerel - I catch loads in the summer in Scotland, the difference in taste after an hour out of the water startling, best to catch it (one of the easiest to catch if it's out there) fillet it there on the beach then fry it almost immediately.
Sorry to hear about the undersized lobbies! I've only bought ones which I think weighed at least a pound... not sure what the minimum weight or size is supposed to be. The white fish rule applies to the skate I have bought from Dean: ie don't eat it the day he catches it. But mackerel is so good (along with sea bass) eaten the day it's caught. In fact, the best sea bass I have EVER eaten was caught by Dean in the morning and cooked by me (on a throwaway CO-OP barbecue) on the seawall at Aldeburgh in the evening on the same day.