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The Wet Fish Book

The Wet Fish Book

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The Wet Fish Book

371 pagine
2 ore
Apr 30, 2019


Everything you wanted to ask a fishmonger but were too afraid to ask!

Over the years, Simon Bennett has built a busy fish business down in Dorset. Set against the idyllic backdrop of Lyme Regis, Simon takes you on a tour of south coast seafood. With extensive 'how to' guides, and exclusive and some unusual fish recipes, you'll learn lots.

Draw on Simon Bennett's 25 years' experience in the fish game. Learn how to source and prepare really fresh seafood. Enjoy exclusive fish recipes from Simon's celebrity chef friends and customers.
Apr 30, 2019

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The Wet Fish Book - Simon Bennett

Copyright Information

Copyright © Simon Bennett (2019)

The right of Simon Bennett to be identified as author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with section 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publishers.

Any person who commits any unauthorised act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages.

A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library.

ISBN 9781788234498 (Paperback)

ISBN 9781788234504 (Hardback)

ISBN 9781788234511 (Kindle e-book)

ISBN 9781528953405 (ePub e-book)

First Published (2019)

Austin Macauley Publishers Ltd

25 Canada Square

Canary Wharf


E14 5LQ


Thank you to Mathew Austin for the cover image.

Part 1: The Joy of Fish

1.1: The Health Benefits

Contrary to whatever your friendly local Catholic may believe, back in the 15th or 16th century, some English king decreed that no red meat should be eaten on a Friday, only fish. This was to preserve dwindling meat stocks at the time and to promote fish consumption. If you didn’t eat fish on Fridays, you’d be locked up for between two and four years. Being locked up in a 16th century jail wouldn’t be particularly good for your health. So it’s fair to say that, even in the olden days, it was good for you to eat fish.

Now we have the miracles of modern science and live in a more liberal world, but we can still prove that fish actually is truly good for you.

Here’s the interesting bit behind why fish is a wonder food: as well as all the different omega oils for brain and heart health, fatty acids in fish go straight into your body’s energy production system. These fatty acids carry out electron transfers by attaching themselves to oxygen in the body and permitting energy to be produced for various chemical processes within it.

Consuming fish oil helps combat fatigue and increases mental and physical capacity. Omega-3 increases your powers of concentration as much as it does your energy levels. The benefits of the good oils and fats in fish far outweigh any trace chemicals present in the water in which they have lived.

Our brains are rich in docosahexaenoic acid (DHA); Omega-3 fatty acids contain this. Therefore, there is scientific fact in the old saying, ‘Fish is good for the brain’.

The Omega-3 fatty acid in fish has been proven to protect against cardiovascular diseases. It reduces blood pressure and cholesterol in the blood. In addition, fish oils reduce life-threatening post-heart-attack heart arrhythmia. The major risk in rheumatoid arthritis is the wearing of the joints, leading to irreparable damage.

It has been proven that a diet rich in Omega-3 fatty acids prevents arthritis and reduces discomfort in swollen and sensitive joints. So fish keeps you well-oiled throughout your life. At the same time, Omega-3 fatty acids have an anti-inflammatory, infection preventing function.

In short, a fish-rich diet can help:

Rheumatoid arthritis


Ulcerative colitis


It protects myelin (the material surrounding nerve cells)


Multiple sclerosis






Problems concerning skin health

Helping with inflammatory disorders and

Strengthens the immune system

We eat fish in our family at least three times a week. My kids would complain loudly if I dared attempt more. Whether it’s my currently 13 year old Sam saying, I really must protest, Father; not those dastardly wild sea bass fillets again! or my 8-year-old Rosie chiming in, I’m living in a turmoil of discontent here, Father. I’m sick of monkfish wrapped in pancetta. I hate you! Their little brain boxes have no idea how lucky they are.

Fish are also one of the only natural wild protein sources left. Most things we eat are farmed, with goodness knows what’s been added to the animal when it was alive, and after slaughter to make it last longer in the store.


Expectant mothers are sometimes fearful of eating fish and seafood during pregnancy. There are no dangers with the fish, as long as it is really fresh. If you buy from a supermarket, you have no idea of the fish’s provenance. If you buy it from your fishmonger, you do.

1.2: First Choose Your Fish

Generally, at the start of a conversation with a new customer, they might say, "Si, what’s your favourite fish?"

The answer is: I don’t have one!

It’s a bit like someone asking, What’s your favourite song? It really depends on your mood. But with fish, it totally depends on the time of year because:

Every species of fish and shellfish is seasonal.

On a cold drizzly February evening, after a quieter day, watching the waves come over the Cobb, I’d love a steaming plate of a particularly creamy, smokey fish pie.

As the weather warms up in late May or early June at the very start of their season, top of my list would be barbecued sea-trout with some simply boiled samphire grass. You know summer’s on the way with those tastes.

On a late summer’s evening, my wife and I really enjoy raw mackerel Tataki, an Asian-spiced dish brought to the UK by Val Warner (recipe available further on in this book).

There are so many ways of preparing and cooking so many fish that we never ever get bored of it. But if you truly want to act responsibly and source sustainably, buy what’s in season. The seasonality chart just along a bit will guide you but this is prepared for the southern coasts of the UK. There’s quite a big difference between water temperatures from north to south. This guide reflects that, as most species are migratory and swim to where the water temperature is ideal for them at any particular time. If you live further north, the waters will warm later so the fish will be in those waters later in the year.

They’re scarce now, madam.

There’s a lot of confusion amongst supermarket fishmongers. They don’t have a clue about seasonality because they don’t buy first hand. So many customers come in to my shop and exclaim how glad they are to see and buy species they thought were long extinct, because some Saturday girl on a supermarket counter had informed them otherwise.

Supermarket fish always comes in polystyrene boxes and their smoked fish is generally always frozen on arrival. If you’re buying white fish in a supermarket as ‘fresh’, the chances are that it will have been frozen at sea on the factory boats after being caught in a big net. This is always the case with ‘Alaskan wild salmon’. This is because it takes two weeks for that boat to arrive back in port; then the frozen fish is driven to huge central distribution centres in the middle of the country. It is then touted as ‘fresh in today’ because it did arrive at the store that day, but not necessarily from a boat that morning, or even from the morning before, or the one before that in most cases.

I know all this from first-hand experience as I stand next to their buyers at markets. I see what they buy and for how much.

Many people come into the shop and are surprised to see species they’d thought were extinct, because they’d been misinformed by well-meaning plonkers who don’t have to wash their own aprons at home.

I once questioned the fish manager in a large supermarket in Bridport on why they seemed predominantly to stock only farmed fish. Because we have to; it’s the way forward. All fish should be farmed, he said.

Do you know it takes about seven kilos of wild fish to make one kilo of farmed Salmon? I said.

I didn’t get a reply. Hopefully, I’d changed his day. Just because we don’t eat the krill, scad and many other inedible species that go into the pellets that feed them, it doesn’t mean we should take them out of the food chain and therefore deprive the other wild fish out there of a meal.

My favourite spin from the big boys is ‘Cultivated at Sea’, which generally means it’s been farmed in an enclosure off the land. What a load of cod’s Pollock’s.

Prices change with the seasons and the big boys buy whatever they can buy cheapest. So what you see behind those glass frontages in white trays is the cheap fodder, not the best or freshest seafood.

Not everyone can get their heads round the fact that everything is seasonal and dependent on water temperature. The weather plays a massive factor in what’s available and if you have a certain recipe in mind, be prepared to adapt it if your chosen fish isn’t on the slab. All the recipes in this book state alternative fish that will work equally well if the specified fish is out of season. We’ve always sold our fish straight off the ice on our display. I hate to see those cabinets you see in supermarkets that dry everything out with constantly moving chilled air.

I hope you appreciate what goes into a good fish display. From the moment it’s caught in the wild, at sea, to the instant it goes into your bag with a bit of spare ice for good measure, there’s a careful attention to temperature throughout the chain from start to finish and one slight break in that chain will stitch your gut up.

Good fish shops smell of the sea and shouldn’t have too much of a whiff about them. My dad always drummed into me, Your counter will only be as good as the worst piece of fish there. When people come down to the Watch House here, I hope we stimulate as many of their senses as possible. That includes their ears. Since coming back from Rome earlier this year, we play opera to our fish and our customers.

If you’ve bought a fish whole, make sure you gut it straight away before you store it in your fridge or stash it in the freezer. It’ll last longer and taste better. Your fishmonger will be happy to do this for you. When you’re home, take the fish out of any plastic bags and pop it in the fridge on a plate and cover with a damp cloth or upturned plate. This’ll prolong the life for a couple of extra days and the fish won’t sweat in the bag.

A lot of people stick to ‘the devil they know’ and are creatures of habit. They know their cod will taste great and they don’t want to try anything else. It’s a shame, as there are other fish which taste similar to cod. Hake is one of my personal favourites; a gorgeous white fish that is fantastic in the oven, when poached in tomato with some fresh basil leaves. Or gurnard: their wider mouths are perfect for sucking up scallops. Who wouldn’t want a fish that fed on scallop meat? It’s cheaper and more abundant through the winter months and works great as a fried fillet or wrapped in tinfoil with fennel bulbs and baked, as per Hugh’s recipe (available further on in this book).

Always Buy with the Seasons

All flatfish have a white and a dark side. The white side glistens on the counter. White looks so much nicer than the dark fillet. Most people are drawn to the lovely whiteness. Here’s something you need to know. Flatties reside on the sea floor, with their darker sides camouflaging their appearance from their prey above. When they swim off, the meatier dark side and top of the fish helps their buoyancy in the water and still gives them cover from fish above. The dark side is therefore meatier. So, if you want a bit more meat on your fillet, choose the darker piece, not that glistening white fillet. All flatfish taste better after a few days out of the sea. One of my restaurant customers was a chef in Shore ditch who would hang turbot for a week before serving. Dabs, lemon sole, Dover sole, plaice, sand sole and other flatfish all have milder flavours. Plaice and other flatfish go through their spawn season during March and April and are of full of roe. Roe is full of protein but not to everyone’s taste.

Ray and Monkfish have short shelf lives. The meat near their bones deteriorates quicker and only last

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