I love fish. Eating and cooking fish is an increasing part of my everyday lifestyle. Naturally, as a chef, I’ve read book upon book of fish and shellfish recipes so the prospect of reading another left me curious but not really ready to be surprised by anything. Until I picked up Tom Kitchin’s Fish & Shellfish!
Tom Kitchin is one of the country’s leading chefs. With a CV that reads more like a wish list for the superstars of the Culinary World, with positions alongside Pierre Koffman and Alain Ducasse in addition to early training at the legendary Gleneagles Hotel, Kitchin opened his own restaurant, The Kitchin in Edinburgh, with his wife Michaela in 2006. Maintaining his Michelin Star for 12 Years in a row is no mean feat, alongside running the award winning gastro pub, The Scran & Scallie, where I can personally verify makes the best fish and chips I have EVER tasted (and I’ve tasted a LOT, I could literally bathe in his homemade tartare sauce).
So, did this chef deliver anything that I haven’t seen before? The long and the short is a definite YES! The seafood recipes and his stories were a dream to read. Tom’s sheer joy of eating freshly caught fish or shellfish straight from the sea is highlighted by seeking out lesser known produce or flavour combinations and pushing the boundaries, whilst essentially making the cooking of fish seem not at all daunting, in fact he encourages you to freestyle and substitute your own ingredients in most recipes.
The book inspires both everyday dishes and celebratory meals, making both approachable and light-hearted. No fancy chef terminology, just good honest, easy to read instructions. What separated this book from others is that it does use classic techniques, recipes such as beurre blanc make a regular appearance, but the way in which they are approached makes you WANT to try them out – failure is not seen as an option, merely a trial that didn’t go to plan. His mission appears to be to include variations of extracting flavours from fish & shellfish by using a plethora of preparation methods from roasting to steaming and poaching. The recipes are diverse but, uncommon for me, I found myself wanting to cook something on every single page. At one point I resorted to writing a list of the order I was going to make things as my mind was in overdrive!
I think the main prerogative that sets this book apart from others that I have read is it has personality, Tom’s personality. It is obvious that he has put his heart and soul into creating this beautifully worded and styled book. Nearly every recipe is introduced with a reference to family or a personal memory. Which brings me to his family. From the onset it is obvious that, rarely for a leading chef, his family will ALWAYS come first. His love for his wife and children is apparent by the sheer amount of times he mentions how much he likes preparing meals and eating with them. The majority of recipes are designed to be placed in the middle of the table and everyone helps themselves, but they can just as easily be plated ‘fine dining’ style. Pure genius.
The book itself is perfectly laid out, and does exactly what it says. Its fish & shellfish through and through, no desserts, no hidden extras, just pure fish. It starts with a concise but highly informative guide to preparation and cooking techniques followed by chapters which run through Crustaceans, Molluscs, Cephalopods, Flat Fish, White Fish, Oily Fish & Mixed Seafood. The book ends with a section of short recipes giving the ‘Basics’ such as mayonnaise and fish stock. Every single chapter offers twists on the classics and novel ideas. As promised, flavour combinations are unusual but highly appealing. The one that stood out, was Auntie Charlotte’s Thai Cod & Banana Soup (note the personal reference) which I have since made and loved.
Recipes are simple to follow and well laid out. Of great use were interjections of hints and tips by Tom such as how long you can make things in advance of serving and how long any leftovers will keep in a fridge. Unlike many chefs, whilst encouraging you to try out techniques for yourself, more often than not he urges you to make friends with your fishmonger and let them do the hard work for you. I can resonate with this, while I enjoy gutting and filleting fish myself, sometimes the time pressures of everyday life make it much easier to have it all done for you in advance. It also makes the whole process much less daunting for the less experienced cook.
Other dishes I have made include ‘Lobster Burgers’ and ‘Salt Cod Fritters’ both of which were fun to make and even better to eat. My list of ‘must tries’ seems endless.
So, to summarise. Tom suggests that the aim of this book is to ‘encourage people who are nervous about preparing fish from scratch or experimenting with different species, or indeed those who have not always had great experiences with eating seafood, to try something new.’ Does he deliver? 100% YES! This book is knockout. Would I urge you to buy it? YES! Even if fish isn’t really your thing (I must admit the sight of a cooked fish head left me cold, not anymore) give it a go, there really is something for just about anyone.
Beautifully written and styled, I’m still searching for something I don’t like. Wait a second, raw oysters, I don’t like raw oysters. Tom I’ll forgive you that one!