Mike Warner from A Passion for Seafood is back with his second seasonal seafood and fish blog.
Mike shares his knowledge and tips, and encourages you to discover all that our coastline has to offer as we head towards Spring. If you feel inspired by his fishy tales and the delicious recipe, pay him a visit at 'A Passion for Seafood' fishmonger and wholesale fish merchants shop at Grange Farm in Hasketon.
Although the days are finally beginning to lengthen, we’re not out of the woods yet. With aconites, snowdrops and even early daffs adorning our countryside, a ‘Fool’s Spring’ is not to be trusted and nature could well have plenty in store for us, before April (remember the ‘Beast from the East’? )
On the Suffolk coast, cold easterlies followed by not-quite-so-cold, n’westerlies have kept our inshore fishing fleet mostly ashore, bar a few exceptional forays after sprats. Like the herring that have now mostly moved on, the sprats descend in vast numbers and I remember as a boy, in rough January weather, watching them wash up on the shoreline at Felixstowe, such were their abundance. We’ve managed to persuade a few of the guys to land some, although their value doesn’t really make it worthwhile, unless they land something else. I buy them by the stone (7kg) and they sell out really quickly (as do the hot smoked sprats). So simple to cook, just floured and fried with a squeeze of lemon, so delicious and so eminently moreish!
However delicious they may be though, they’re not enough of a catch and our fishermen will soon be turning their attention to the spring species - cod, skate, smooth hounds (rock eel) lobsters and crabs. The latter won’t appear ‘on the crawl’ for several weeks yet and so the guys are busy mending pots and preparing gear ashore, ready for the season.
They’re keen to get afloat though and soon, as the first signs of fish appear in late February/early March, the netters and long liners will put to sea to try their luck. Long lining is a very traditional East Anglian method of fishing and highly selective with almost a zero carbon footprint, so very easy on the environment. Cod used to be our main quarry and as a boy, I remember coming ashore at Felixstowe Ferry with boxes and boxes of splendid green and gold cod, caught just inshore between East Lane and the Cutler bank using this method.
It is, just as described, a long length of stout line, anchored at intervals to the sea bed along which are tied snoods, each one baited with a decent size stainless steel hook. As the fish feed up into the tide, the waving baits are snapped up and the hungry cod hook themselves. The line is then hauled in, having fished perhaps just a couple of tides or even 24hrs and the flapping fish unhooked, gutted, boxed and iced ready for market.
Unfortunately the cod are no longer there in those numbers. Overfishing, environmental impact from other marine activities and natural changes in migration patterns have all combined meaning the ‘run’ of cod we now see in the spring, is relatively insignificant. A sad loss for all involved.
Skate however, or more specifically ‘the thornback ray’ or ‘roker’ as the fishermen call them, are thankfully more abundant and soon the long lines baited with flanks of herring will be in the water once more, with the hope of heaps of freshly skinned wings on our slab at the shop.
Watch Ed and Rob Butters netting Dover Sole on The Suffolk Coast VIDEO
Although we sell a lot of skate, I wish more people would embrace it. It’s a fantastic flavour and once scraped or ‘pulled’ off the cartilaginous frame, boneless, great eating for everyone and very versatile. A lot of folk will enjoy it battered with chips or sautéed in brown butter with capers which are lovely, but for me, one of my faves is taking it off the bone (what I call pulled skate) and mixing with mashed potato, creme fraiche and paprika, moulding into fish cakes and then frying in butter, which is a joy. These then go well with a little sweet chilli sauce or perhaps some preserved chilli or just a good dollop of homemade mayonnaise. They’re great for children too.
Look out for fresh local skate wings over the coming months and drop Mike a line (no pun intended! if you have any seasonal fishy questions!
Pulled Skate and Paprika Potato Cakes Ingredients 1 skinned wing Thornback ray (about 500g) (or another seasonally abundant ray species) 2 bay leaves A few black peppercorns 500g boiled floury potatoes for mashing 200g salted butter 2 tbsp creme fraiche 1 tbsp smoked paprika 2 handfuls grated mature cheddar 1 tsp English mustard 4 spring onions - finely chopped Small bunch chives - finely chopped 1 free range egg - beaten Sea salt Freshly ground black pepper - to taste Method
First poach the wing in a suitable pan in salted water, (or a court-bouillon ) with the black peppercorns and the bayleaves for about 8 mins. Ladle out and drain.
Fork the ray meat away form the wing frame (pulled) and set aside.
Mash the potatoes incorporating the mustard, half the butter and creme fraiche and a little salt and pepper. Put in mixing bowl and fork in the pulled skate, adding the cheddar, paprika, chives and spring onions. Work everything together and add as much of the egg as is needed to bind, without making the mixture too wet.
Form the mixture into cakes (about 1 tbsp each) and flatten slightly ready for frying.
Melt the remaining butter in a heavy frying pan and introduce the cakes when it starts to foam. Fry them turning once or twice until the sides are crispy and golden brown.
Repeat for all the cakes (makes about 8) and serve with a green salad.
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