Any chef worth his salt likes nothing better than to get his hands on live, finger-licking shellfish. It’s difficult to believe, but the majority of seafood landed by our fishermen goes hotfoot to the Spanish, French and Italians.
Like hungry penguins they gobble it up in giant lorry loads and for the last 30 years the Berwick Shellfish Company has played its part in delivering regular supplies to the continent.
Live shellfish is landed on a daily basis by local fishermen, and when it arrives at the Tweedmouth factory it’s checked for quality and size before being placed in special holding tanks where it awaits shipment to Europe. However, in recent months it’s fair to say that the tide has turned a little in favour of the home market.
So much so that it has prompted brothers Douglas and Graham Flannigan to keep some of their precious catch to stock a neat little factory shop on their premises at Dock Road.
And what a joy it is! On offer are live and cooked lobsters, Dublin Bay prawns, cooked crabs, crab claws, mussels, oysters as well as kippers and sea bass, all attractively displayed in a chilled counter.
They’ll also prepare party packs of mixed shellfish to order as well as crab, prawn and kipper pate sandwiches. And if you’re buying a large amount of seafood they’ll pack it in a cool box so you get it home in perfect condition.
If you want to buy frozen that’s on offer too, from a huge freezer filled to the gunnels.
My favourite is Dublin Bay prawns, but, confusingly, they don’t come from Dublin Bay! In fact they’re caught anywhere from Morocco in the south, through the Mediterranean and as far north as Iceland. Sometimes called Norwegian lobster, they are more often known by the French name of langoustine, and some of the very best specimens come from British waters.
I grabbed a kilo of large langoustine for the bargain price of £15. My intention was to turn the tails into scampi fritti much as they do in Venice at the Cipriani Hotel where they cost an arm and a leg.
Served with artichoke hearts, also fried in the lightest of tempura batter, they are utterly delicious.
But instead I tossed them into a hot paella pan for a few minutes, with a dollop of clarified butter and olive oil, chopped garlic, a squeeze of lemon juice and flamed them with Grand Marnier. Accompanied by slices of lemon and a glass of Pouilly Fumé they hit the spot.
I also bought 500 grams of white crab meat (£12) along with some cheaper brown meat. Mixed together there was enough for three crab and Gruyere tarts. The recipe is simple.
200g white crab meat
50g brown crab meat
A pinch of cayenne pepper
50g Gruyère cheese finely grated
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 egg yolks
85ml double cream
Rick Stein in his book ‘Fruits of the Sea’ recommends lining four shallow 11cm loose-based tartlet tins with the shortest of shortcrust pastry and chilling them for 20 minutes. (I used an 18cm tin and increased the ingredients slightly.)
Line the pastry cases with greaseproof paper and cover the base with a generous layer of baking beans and bake blind for 15 minutes at 220C/Gas 7. Remove the paper and beans and brush the bottom of the pastry case with a little unbeaten egg white and return to the oven for 2 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Reduce the oven temperature to 200C/Gas 6 and prepare the filling.
Mix the crab meat with the egg yolks, cream, cayenne and salt and pepper.
Spoon the mixture into the cases and sprinkle with the grated Gruyère cheese. Bake for 15-20 minutes until lightly golden. Serve warm with a glass of Premier Cru Chablis.
○Keith and Lynne Allan run the Old Dairy in Ford, a Country Concept store and coffee shop specialising in antiques, vintage and interiors. They are also AGA Ambassadors and have just completed a new show kitchen in which a working, five oven Total Control Electric AGA takes centre stage for demonstrations and cookery classes. They cook and bake for the coffee shop from Thursday to Sunday. Call 01890 820325/01289 302658 or www.theolddairyinford.co.uk