By Ben Thorpe on 13 Nov 2017
Working with whole fish in the home is a daunting prospect. I have to admit, if presented with the task of filleting a fish, I'd have little idea where to start so I've limited myself in the past to preprepared fish. With that in mind, I was excited to receive an invitation to attend a day at York Cookery School to learn all about preparing fish with award-winning Yorkshire chef Steph Moon.
York Cookery School is based at Clifton Moor and has been offering a range of cooking experiences to the public since 2012. They bring in a wide range of local chefs to provide a commendably broad offering. If you fancy trying your hand at cooking Indian, Thai, macaroons, cakes, baking or many other options then this is the place. The fish masterclass I attended was scheduled to run from 10am - 4pm and came in at £150.
The day started with a friendly introduction from Cookery School co-owner Fraser who then handed over to Steph ready to get stuck into the packed day's cooking. After a chat, she started by demonstrating a homemade soda bread that would serve to soak up a cheese and bacon sauce that we would cook mussels in. In the midst of all this, we also got some potatoes sliced to pop in the oven for a Dauphinoise that'd be part of our lunch.
Looking at the mussels, we started by removing the beards, knocking off any barnacles and removing any potentially unsafe mussels (any that remain open when tapped, indicating they've died) before stowing them away while we tackled our filleting. We were given a whole plaice each to set about using the demonstration that Steph gave as a guide. I was anxious about doing the fish justice, but with Steph circulating and offering pointers, I was happy to have extracted passable fillets from the fish, leaving the remains ready to make a stock. Mackerel revealed itself to be much easier to fillet, requiring rather less in the way of knife skills.
With our mackerel and plaice fillets to one side, we set about combining the mussels with a few ingredients to knock up a bacon and cheese sauce, something achieved easily thanks to handily pre-weighed ingredient piles. Shortly we were sitting down to eat this first course and finding it a struggle to avoid mopping up every drop of the sauce, but moderation was required to make sure there was space for plaice!
Next it was time to get our fillets cooking so, in preparation, we got out our now perfect Dauphinoise, grabbed a bit of wilted spinach and set about gently frying the fillets under ever helpful instruction. It was only a few minutes before we'd plated up and were back at the table enjoying plaice fillets with Dauphinoise, spinach and brown shrimps. I'd have been happy to receive a plate like this in most restaurants so, as with the group, I took satisfaction in having taken the ingredients all the way from fish to plate.
After lunch, the course continued apace as we knocked up some cheesy Welsh cakes to go with the kipper pate that we were about to make. Kipper pate proved more labour intensive to make, requiring pan-frying a whole kipper before deboning manually. The kipper mixed through with horseradish cream, lemon zest and a hint of chilli was absolutely fantastic and will require minimal skill to replicate. My wife is insisting I do this at the earliest possible opportunity.
As we drew toward the end of the course, the pace didn't let up with Steph challenging us to pick a bunch of ingredients to make a salad that could go with the mackerel we'd filleted earlier. With the mackerel rolled in spices and skewered with lime ready to go, we were taken through preparing a vinaigrette that we took away with us to season our combinations of salad ingredients when the time came.
While we packed in a huge amount to the day, at no point did it feel rushed or pressured. We ran through masses of information, going off piste as required when Steph was thrown questions, but always getting back to the schedule quickly. The food we prepared was all absolutely fantastic, the recipes that we covered all within reach of a home cook in a domestic kitchen and the spoils of our day a privilege to take home. I don't doubt that the rest of the courses on offer also give great value. I thoroughly recommend checking out the schedule.
Disclaimer: No charge was made for my attendance on this course. Opinions are impartial as ever.