Cornwall

A seafood and shellfish day at Rick Stein’s Cookery School in Padstow

Heading up the A30 to Padstow, my mind’s trawling through my fish and seafood knowledge in preparation for my day at fish connoisseur Rick Stein’s famed cookery school. Although my Mum was a chef and taught me lots, fish wasn’t prevalent on the menu having grown up away from the sea, so I arrived with a mixture of excitement and trepidation – would I know my bream from my bass?

I park easily on the waterfront and head to the school, which lies on the South Quay and next to Stein’s Deli, Stein’s Fish & Chips and Stein’s Fisheries, so not difficult to find! On entry, I was immediately made welcome with a delicious coffee and a beautiful view over the estuary, plus a handy folder with all the details of what to expect.

Once the other members of the group arrived, we were warmly greeted by head chef Nick and the rest of the cheffy team for the day. Donning aprons, we headed through the kitchen to the front for the first demonstration of the day – sweet, juicy seared scallops served with Serrano ham.

Chef Nick tells us all the do’s and don’ts of buying shellfish, how and where to buy them, and how to prepare them. He’s knowledgeable, easy to follow and makes everything look easy as he effortlessly puts together the dish. Once done, we taste it (exquisite!) before heading to our kitchens to try cooking it ourselves.

We’re working in pairs, and lucky for me I’m teamed up with Carl, a professional chef who really knows a thing or two, so I’m in safe (and very patient) hands as we start cleaning and prepping the scallops and making the hot dressing to go with it. There’s only one hiccup (I overcooked the dressing, so we must start again – apparently everyone did, so I didn’t feel so bad), and eventually we sit down and tuck into our creations. I’m incredibly chuffed with how it’s turned out, and so is the rest of the table.

Next, Chef Nick shows us how to cook Malaysian fried Lemon Sole, a more complicated dish which involves de-scaling, filleting and skinning a flat fish. He talks to us about the different kinds of fish and the ways of filleting and demonstrates effortlessly how to do it. He makes it look easy, but he tells us, there’s someone in the fishery who can de-scale and fillet a fish in less than ten seconds. Impressive!

To go with the lemon sole is a Malay chilli sauce, and soon the delicious fragrance of ginger, garlic and chilli permeates the room. Chef Nick dips the fillets in the sauce and then into cornflour, before deep frying until crispy. The result are light, fragrant morsels of loveliness which we all dive into and snaffle up, before heading with vigour back to our workstations to make for ourselves.

Carl knows I’ve not filleted a fish before, so he kindly lets me take the lead, providing guidance and cheffy tips along the way. I manage to do it with no problem (the fabulously sharp knife slip through like the fish isn’t there) and I vow to get myself a decent filleting knife for future cooking. Meanwhile, our spicy chilli sauce is reduced nicely, and we get dipping, flouring and frying off the lemon sole, breathing deeply when we lift out the crispy fillets which smell so deliciously spiced – yum!

After we’d eaten, we’re led back to the demo area where Chef Aarron shows us how to cook the next dish – prawns with tomato, basil, feta and an aniseedy dash of pastis (or ouzo). Firstly, he shows us how best to finely dice pesky shallots and garlic without tears, then how to peel and prepare the tiger prawns properly.

It’s a simple, hearty dish taken from Stein’s ‘Venice to Istanbul’ book, and a real revelation for me. Super-easy to make, it doesn’t take long for us to prepare it ourselves and soon we’re chomping heartily through our creations, accompanied by some lovely wine chosen by Chef Nick (or tasty ginger beer in my case, being as I’m driving).

Our last practical demo is the most complicated – sea bass with beurre blanc and spinach. This involves de-scaling and filleting the sea bass (a ‘round’ fish) and making the beurre blanc, which consists of a sinfully large amount of cream and butter and is of course delicious beyond belief. Back in our kitchen, I’m slightly nervous about tackling the large fish, but Carl helps and soon we have two fillets, ready for cooking. The sauce comes together like a dream and the spinach is ready in seconds, making this a luxurious yet quick dish to prepare – handy if you’re short of time but want to impress!

Stuffed to the gills (excuse the pun), for the last dish we just to have to sit and watch Chef Nick – Splash café clam chowder in a sourdough bowl. The bred has its top cut off and innards pulled out and popped in the oven to heat through, whilst Nick explains how clams are bred, kept and prepared. They’re quite rare these days, so expensive, but it’s good they’ve only been caught the day before and only travelled from Dorset. To go with the steamed and picked clams, a rich, creamy sauce is made and includes bacon – a lovely contrast. Finally, the chowder is ladled into the bread bowls, garnished with chives and we’re told to dig in. We need no encouragement! It’s as gorgeous as it looks.

Suddenly it’s four pm, and the day is done. We’re all given folders with recipes, lots of tips and info on how to prepare fish and even a personal certificate. We all roll out of the school, and I need a walk around Padstow harbour before my drive home, blissfully happy after a day’s cooking.

Rick Stein’s Cookery School offers a wide choice of courses, from fish and seafood, through to French, Indian and Moroccan. It’s a fabulous addition to any Cornish holiday, and the courses make great presents, so why not surprise your loved one when you next come to Cornwall?

Feeling inspired? Take a look at our luxury cottages in Cornwall here.

Rick Stein’s Cookery School, S Quay, Padstow PL28 8BY | 01841 532 700 | www.rickstein.com/school

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