Mr B and I are buzzing. Yesterday we paid a visit to the oldest fish market in the UK, known as Billingsgate Fish Market. Its been operating for the past 800 years in Londinium and although the sites have changed over the centuries, the buzz and frenetic activity of buying and selling has no doubt remained the same.
As well as serving the fishmongers, caterers and restaurants around the country the general public are also welcome to come and buy an incredible variety of fish and shell fish at good honest prices – 50p an oyster anyone?
Its open from tuesday through to saturday from 5am until 8.30am – although the fish may have all been sold by 8am so its best to be there early. You’ll notice in the photo below the time was 8.20am on a Saturday and there were still some punters able to buy a good selection of fish. In the week though I hear the fish is all sold by 8am.
Situated just above the fish market is the Billingsgate Seafood Training School, which was set up 12 years ago as a charity to help educate the children from the local schools about fish and seafood and the benefits of eating it for a balanced diet. I should note that the market it right next door to Canary Wharf, which is one of the key financial districts in London. The local neighbourhoods however are much less affluent than this financial district, and it is these neighbourhoods that the training school was originally set up to benefit. In addition to introducing seafood to children, the school also offers a wide range of courses for adults who want to improve their fish skills. It was one of these courses that Mr B and I signed ourselves up for.
For six hours Mr B and I were treated to a range of informative demonstrations and tastings, followed by some hands on knife skills, where we got to gut squid, pocket plaice, fillet gilt-head bream and prepare gurnard. It was very satisfying to be able to actually fillet and gut your own fish. We learned so much that I only hope that we can retain it all and build upon it going forward. Like anything in life it requires practice, so Mr B and I are going to be eating even more fish going forward so that we can practice and finesse our new skills.
Here are a couple of new things we learned during the course:
1. You only need to cook squid for 30 seconds in a pan with a little hot oil. We had always cooked it for a few minutes, but it really is not necessary and tastes so much better if you fry it for a shorter amount of time. Equally you can braise it in an low oven for 1 hour 30 minutes – I have yet to ever try this. I’d love to hear from anyone who has a good braising recipe for squid!
2. Only fish that is going off smells fishy. Fish that is fresh has very little aroma, hence when we were in the market you could hardly smell fish.
3. When you buy squid in the supermarket it is often brilliant white in colour. This is because it has been submerged in water to give it more of a glow white look. Squid has more of a grey tinge when it is bought straight from the fisherman/market.
4. Fish requires no more than 10-12 minutes cooking time in a fan oven 200C, non-fan oven 210C or gas mark 7.
5. When making fish stock do not cook the fishbones, head etc for more that 30 minutes as it may begin to taste bitter.
6. Avoid fish with cloudy and sunken eyes as it indicates they are losing condition. Buy fish that has bright eyes and a clear conea.
Each student was given a recipe booklet of the recipes we sampled during the course. We also all left with a huge bag of the fish that we had prepared during the course. So when Mr B and I arrived home we decided to prepare the marinated squid salad, which we had tried for breakfast in fact, earlier in the day. We were expecting a guest for dinner so thought that it would be a good starter to nibble on. I urge you to try this dish as it is absolutely divine and super easy to make.
Marinated Squid Salad
Billingsgate Seafood Training School recipe
300g small squid (or cuttlefish or baby octopus)
7 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 tsp of smoked paprika (non smoked is also fine)
salt and freshly ground pepper
handful of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
1. Cut the squid into pieces, strips or rings or both, whatever takes your fancy.
2. Place 1 tbsp of olive oil in a frying pan and when the oil is hot (medium heat) add the squid and fry for about 30 seconds. Remove from the heat and transfer to a serving bowl.
3. Mix the remaining oil with the vinegar, garlic, smoked paprika, parsley, salt and pepper – stir the ingredients together thoroughly. Pour over the squid and mix together well. Leave to marinate for 20-30 minutes. Serve with fresh crusty bread and a green salad.
So would we return for another course at Billingsgate? ABSOLUTELY. We can’t wait to return to do a full day course and learn more about preparing and cooking other fish and shell fish. Oh yes, I also now have the Billingsgate Market Cookbook on my christmas wish list!