When I found out there was going to be a new fishmonger opening down the road from our flat, I was positively ecstatic. As you may have guessed, I have a fondness for any sort of establishment that sells food and I thought we could finally ditch the dreary fish counter at Sainsbury’s and pick up some decent seafood for a change. I had visions of walking in and being dazzled by a counter filled with glistening seafood on ice, and boy oh boy, did those fishies glisten!
Had a certain someone not been there to give me a reality check (I don’t actually cook fish all that often, ok fine, hardly ever) I probably would’ve left with three sea bass because they were only a tenner and a rainbow snapper because it looked pretty. What we actually left with was a few hundred grams of king prawns; not as exciting as the rainbow snapper but still a million times better than the precooked ones from a certain giant supermarket chain.
For the next few visits, this continued to be all we left with until one day, in a spontaneous ‘what the heck am I going to cook tonight’ frenzy I waltzed in and bought myself one of those pretty rainbow snapper. As I was on the verge of the hanger, I didn’t have time to wait in the five deep line for filleting… I’ve seen them do it on telly, it doesn’t look that hard. Wrong. But you knew that was coming didn’t you?!
I’d rather not relive the next hour or so which followed; all you need to know is that it involved a lot of scales across the kitchen, fish guts, mess, cuts on my fingers, more mess, and a very late dinner. A little scarred by the whole event I went back to my usual practice of staring longingly at the fish but only purchasing prawns; I didn’t want to touch another raw fish ever again. That all changed a couple of weeks ago… but thankfully, this time, it was under professional supervision so no more innocent fish or fingers were harmed in the making of this blog post.
I was in the kitchen with Russell, a chef and owner of Truc Vert, a charming French bistro in Mayfair, and a man who knows a thing or two about slicing up these slippery things. We donned our aprons, I smiled nervously at Frankie the mastermind and photographer of the whole thing, knives were sharpened and then, before I knew it, Russell was ready to teach me how to fillet fish. Properly. Nothing like the great fish massacre of Tooting, this whole process was calm, controlled and, dare I say it, very manageable.
Russell taught me to fillet round and flat fish, patiently explaining the differences between them and how to deal with each one. Attacking the round fish first, a sea bass in this case, I started cutting into the flesh by the top fin, and using the bones as a guide, I slowly but surely sliced off the first fillet. Turning the fish over, I started on the other side which was a little trickier as everything was a little more slippery, but I think I managed just fine.
The round fish, a witch flounder, involved some skinning, it felt like ripping off velcro but far more fiddly. Once that was out of the way, filleting felt like a breeze. I wouldn’t say my fillets were restaurant quality but I was still chuffed with my efforts, and I have Russell to thank for that. Last time I faced a raw fish with a knife in my hands I was so petrified of cutting too much of the flesh or too close to the bones that I made half hearted attempts to slice a bit here and there; what I should’ve been was a little firmer with that snapper and showing it who’s boss. Me, that is, in case you were wondering. Oh yes, I am Connie the Fish Slayer, here me roar!
Fast forward a week later, beaming with confidence and armed with my new skills I trotted down to the fishmonger, didn’t even give the prawns a second glance and went straight for a sea bass. I took it home, unwrapped it, had a momentary lapse in courage, gave myself a fishy pep-talk and voila… dinner is served!
A huge thanks to Russell for having me in the kitchen and helping me fine tune my fish skills; we’ll definitely be eating more fresh fish fillets for dinner now!
And thanks to Frankie of The Mayfairy for capturing the whole experience – all great photos are hers, the so-so ones are still mine!