Seafood from the Essex coastline
PUBLISHED: 12:30 04 March 2016 | UPDATED: 12:46 04 March 2016
Famous for its vibrant coastline, Essex can also boast a rich source of fabulous seafood to share with foodies near and far. Stephanie Mackentyre meets some of the people doing just that
The Little Fish Shop opened in Kelvedon in March 2011, after Maria Nash and her partner, Phil Wright, were searching for new, larger premises. The couple already owned The Little Fish Company, supplying fresh fish and seafood products to the catering trade. Their new home in Kelvedon gave them a shop front and enough room out back to prepare the fish for sale for their trade customers. The Little Fish Shop was born and is open Tuesday through to Saturday, from 9am to 5pm. Phil doesn’t just talk the talk either, he has his own fishing boat, the Cathy Anne, which he moors at Wivenhoe. Together the couple offer their customers the freshest fish they can possibly find, including the fish Phil catches himself. They also source from a number of local fishermen and all locally-caught fish is prepared and on the counter within 24 hours. Some of their fresh fish comes from markets including line-caught cod from Lowestoft in Suffolk, halibut, haddock and coley from Peterhead in Scotland, and salmon from Loch Duart, where they practice low density stocking so the fish are active, lean and healthy, and as close to wild salmon as possible.
Phil and Maria also sell shellfish, purchased daily in Billingsgate Market, and from here Phil can also source more unusual wet fish including tuna, swordfish, snapper and pink bream. Phil says: ‘Our most popular at the moment is skate and sea bass, or our Dover soles. Our sushi grade tuna comes from Billingsgate. Customers come in, try it and as soon as they have a taste they buy it.’
And if you’re scared to prepare any of the fish, Phil or his brother Steven are always on hand to talk to and to show you the best way to scale, fillet, gut, steak or butterfly your chosen fish.
A Modern Way
Estuary Fish launched as an online business six years ago, ferrying fish across the UK as fresh as possible. Owner, David Rawlings, explains: ‘The online business has gone really well as customers like to see what we have if they can’t drive down to see us. You’d be surprised by the areas we are asked to supply, places like Devon and Cornwell, where you’d assume they had plenty of fresh shell fish, but they come to us.’
The business has now developed into two sites, estuaryfish.com and buy-fish-on-line.co.uk. ‘In this day and age, it’s what people want,’ David continues. ‘Although we hope we will still continue to have our traditional shop in Leigh on Sea.’
The shop began in 1947 as Arthur Dench and Sons. David Rawlings’s father came home from the war, married his mother (naming the business after his father-in-law) and started from scratch selling only a few items such as cockles, eels, shrimps and winkles. These were served from outside the wooden looped shutters of the shop on a trestle table, all piled up and sold in pints and half pints for a few pennies.
In 1953 the shop was extended, then, in 1973, David took over from his father and changed the name to Estuary Fish. ‘In the past dad had only sold shell fish to the public. My wife and I moved on to crab sticks and tiger prawns and a much wider selection of seafood. We have a cooking facility at the back of the shop so we cook our own crabs and lobsters and handpicked whelks. We use only fresh fish, nothing frozen, and I think that’s what makes our shop so popular.’
Although open seven days a week, most custom arrives at the weekends. ‘It’s always busy, prepping during the week for the weekends and then serving on Saturdays and Sundays.’ The location is always a draw, with Leigh on Sea set in a Conservation Area and right by the sea. ‘We open in the summer from 8am and go right through to the evenings. Our best sellers are cockles and peeled prawns, and sea bass too. We sell loads of those and our seafood platters are really popular. They include lobsters, smoked salmon and plenty of scallops too.
Now We’re Smoking
Smoked fish has seen a growth in popularity too in recent years and husband and wife Colin and Katja Driesel are testament to that. Together they run their own smokehouse right next to Hanningfield Reservoir, which is one of the largest trout fisheries in England.
Katja explains: ‘Smoking is an old artisan tradition and method of preserving fish, and it simply tastes good. I come from Germany, where it’s extremely popular.’
The couple share a love of fishing and food, especially smoked. In 2012 the couple went on a food smoking course to learn how to smoke food at home. ‘We built our own smoker out of an old filing cabinet and successfully started smoking our own foods. As we started to experiment with different foods the idea of starting our own business, incorporating our new-found passion, was born. Before our hobby became a commercial business we were airport chauffeurs, driving 2,000 miles a week each. As keen fishermen, we wondered what people did with their fish and the idea of leaving a stressful job and creating a smokehouse right next to the reservoir came about.’
In October 2012, Katja’s father, Werner, travelled from Germany to build their smokehouse, converting an old cattle barn on Great Prestons Farm. ‘It’s been a rollercoaster ride over the last two and a half years, but we love what we do and our customers do too,’ adds Katja. ‘Every day new people discover us. We smoke Scottish salmon and also the rainbow trout from the Hanningfield Reservoir – it’s that provenance we want to preserve. We can literally see the reservoir from our smokehouse.’
Last year, in only their second year in business, they were proud to achieve recognition winning a Great Taste Award for 2015. Katja wasn’t going to divulge their secret smoking recipe, but assures me the great taste comes from the special brine she uses to prepare the fish and also the recipe they use to smoke.
‘Every smokehouse has its own recipe, it comes down to the ingredients you flavour the fish with and what kind of wood you use.’ Cold smoking involves smoking the fish at room temperature, not exceeding 28 degrees. A side of smoked salmon smoked this way takes four days from start to finish. Their trout is hot smoked taking a couple of days. ‘It’s brined first with spices and salt water for an hour and then rested and smoked the next day for about four hours to create the unique flavour.’
Fresh fish at home
Celebrating 10 years in business this year, David Chalkley is not only a fishmonger, but a former butcher too, and he always has time to offer advice about preparing and cooking fish. David explains: ‘All fish is easy to fillet if you do it enough, but if you’ve never done it before, it is best to start with a flat fish.’
David advises that you use a sharp filleting knife. ‘Take the head off first, then gently have your forefinger on the back edge of the knife. This type of knife is very pliable and as you run over the bone you can feel the vibrations through the knife,’ David continues.
You can watch the how-to videos on the Star Fishmongers’ website, and that is not the only way that David’s business is embracing new technology. ‘Nowadays no one has time after work to cook. We are moving things forward by preparing fish ready meals for our customers.’
David currently offers 15 different fresh fish ready meals, including a very popular Louisiana prawn gumbo. ‘Our clam chowder and also the smoked fish gratin are well received, as is our fish lasagne made with fresh cod cheeks and fresh tomatoes. We make everything from scratch, as I’m no fan of ready meals full of salt and preservatives.’
David’s ready fish meals come with full cooking instructions and are all his own recipes.
‘Cooking is a passion I’ve always had after learning the basics at catering college many years ago,’ he adds.
Get in Touch
Great Prestons Farm, Great Prestons Lane, Stock, CM4 9RN, 01277 829841, www.hanningfieldsmokehouse.co.uk
The Little Fish Shop
34 High Street, Kelvedon, CO5 9AG, 01376 573535, www.thelittlefishshop.com
195 High Street, Ongar, CM5 9JG, 01277 363131, www.starfishmongers.co.uk
Other places to land a great catch
The Company Shed
129 Coast Road, West Mersea, Mersea Island, Colchester, CO5 8PA, 01206 382700, www.the-company-shed.co.uk
Offering shell fish, oysters and seafood to purchase or why not stay awhile and sample the food in situ?
195 High Street, Ongar, CM5 9JG, 01277 363131, www.starfishmongers.co.uk
Celebrating 10 years in business this year. Not only a fishmonger but a former butcher too, the owner David is happy to talk to and offer advice to fellow foodies whenever they pop by.
The Oyster Smack Inn
112 Station Road, Burnham on Crouch, CM0 8HR, 01621 782141, www.theoystersmackinn.co.uk
This restaurant with rooms is a rare find. With cosy accommodation and a great menu, it’s only a stroll from the seashore, so you can stay over and soak up the atmosphere.
GreyFriars Hotel, Bar and Restaurant
High Street, Colchester, C01 1UG, 01206 575913, www.greyfriarscolchester.co.uk
Check out this town centre dining destination with a selection of dishes making great use of the local Colchester Native Oyster and Rock Oysters too.