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Chef Tom Kitchin on the joys of seafood and shellfish

Scottish foodie Tom Kitchin talks Ella Walker through his new seafood-based cookbook

Tom Kitchin's new cookbook focuses on fish and shellfish
Ella Walker

THE way to get anyone, and particularly kids, into fish, says Tom Kitchin, is to show them the whole cycle of eating it, from catching to plating.

The chef, whose Scottish restaurant The Kitchin has one coveted Michelin star, goes fishing five or six times a year, "whether it's sea fishing or trout or salmon fishing" – but it's mackerel fishing that he's a real sucker for.

"I love to do that with the kids [he has four boys with wife Michaela], it's great fun because quite often you catch something," says the Edinburgh-born restaurateur.

"The one thing about fishing is, you have to have a bit of patience, and it's not something that children have a lot of..."

But if you do snag a few muscular, iridescent mackerel, silver-bellied and eyes bright, he says, follow the process all the way through with kids if you can, because "more often than not, that's how you'll get them to eat it.

"If they've caught it, they've gone through the gutting and the barbecuing, and then they taste it – that's a very satisfying day," he adds.

This enthusiasm for fish is one Kitchin hopes to share: it's the backbone of his latest cookbook, Tom Kitchin's Fish And Shellfish.

He calls the recipe collection "a real celebration" of seafood and "a real passion of mine", that shows how seafood offers "such a quick way to cook, such a healthy way to eat".

The book is also underlined by a desire to help people quash their fish fears and "get away from 'Oh, I just like salmon, I just like haddock'," adds Kitchin, with a knowing touch of exasperation.

Being based in Scotland though, the 41-year-old is well aware that he has incredible access to the joys of edible sea creatures not enjoyed by all.

But he's adamant it is possible to get your hands on decent seafood, no matter how landlocked you might be – although obviously, anything scaly is better fresh out of the ocean.

"First and foremost, you've got to build your relationship with a fishmonger," says Kitchin.

"Fishmongers in general are great banter, proper old school, love a regular customer, and will go out of their way. So if you find a recipe and say to yourself, 'I'd really like to try that, it's got scallops or prawns or mackerel', then go and speak to your fishmonger because they will be able to source these ingredients for you.

"If it's for the weekend, then try and get there Wednesday or Thursday to pre-order it," he continues; it'll certainly be more of a learning experience than shucking cod fillets from vacuum-packed plastic sheathes from the supermarket.

"I think people have really bad childhood memories, they think about fish with bones in it. It's a bit like offal," muses Kitchin.

"People think about liver and onion at school – 'I'm never having that again' – but like most things, if it's done properly, it's really, really good."

Cost, particularly if you don't entirely rate you fish cookery skills, can also be a concern. After all, the trendiest fish of the moment, turbot ("The king of fish"), is stunningly pricey, especially if wild caught.

But for Kitchin, the wonderful thing about fish is that there's so much variety – in flavour, size and cost.

"As long as it's fresh, it's good. So if you're really pushing the boat out, you're talking lobster, turbot, langoustines, scallops, but underneath that you've got some wonderful fish; hake, cod, haddock, mussels, plaice, [which are] great value for money.

"It can certainly be done on a budget – and just think of how good it is for you."

Still hesitant? You definitely don't have to start with oysters. Even Kitchin, who, at 29, became the youngest chef to win a Michelin star, didn't knock back his first oyster until he was 16 or 17 ("which for a chef is quite old").

"I don't think it was love at the first taste, but I tell you what, I love them now," he buzzes.

"If you're gonna try them for the first time, maybe don't go for a big massive one, and go somewhere they really know what they're doing.

"Just try and embrace them. They'll grow on you. I have mine with shallots in red wine vinegar, a little bit of lemon juice, and off we go."

As a child himself, Kitchin reckons he was "pretty adventurous" but wasn't elegantly scoffing snails, or anything like that.

"My kids are eating much better now than I was at their age," he says.

And if his boys were faced with a snail?

"They'll try it, I don't know if they'll fully enjoy it, but they'll try it," he offers with a laugh. And with seafood, just trying it is a rule you can't argue with.

:: Tom Kitchin's Fish And Shellfish by Tom Kitchin, photography by Marc Miller, is published by Absolute Press, priced £26

RECIPES

:: HALIBUT, RED PEPPER AND CHORIZO

A simple but tasty fish supper: "Halibut has a delicious, firm white flesh with a meaty texture," says Tom Kitchin.

"The meaty texture allows you to pair halibut with big flavours, and that is exactly what the red pepper piperade here is all about."

Ingredients (Serves 4)

5 red peppers

Olive oil

150g fresh chorizo, casing removed and chopped

1 onion, chopped

1 garlic clove, chopped

1 bouquet garni

150ml chicken stock, ideally homemade

A small handful of basil leaves

4 halibut steaks, about 130g each, skinned

20g butter

16 Padron peppers

Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Method:

1. First prepare the red peppers, which can be done up to a day in advance and reheated before serving. Preheat the oven to 200C Fan/220C/Gas Mark 7. Heat a large well-seasoned ovenproof saute or frying pan with a lid over a medium-high heat, then add a splash of oil. When it is hot, add the peppers, season with salt and pepper and saute for two minutes on each side. Transfer the pan into the oven and roast the peppers, uncovered, for 10 minutes, or until softened.

2. Place the peppers into a bowl, cover tightly with cling film and set aside for 10 minutes - this makes the peppers sweat so you can remove the skins easily. Transfer the peppers into a sieve or colander in the sink and rinse off the skins with cold running water. The sieve catches all the bits and stops your sink from becoming blocked. Cut the peppers in half and remove the seeds and membranes, then slice them into strips and set aside.

3. Heat the wiped-out pan over a medium-high heat, then add a splash of oil. When it is hot, add the chorizo and saute for two minutes, or until oils are released. Now add the onion, garlic and bouquet garni, cover the pan, lower the heat and leave the onion to sweat for two minutes. Add the red pepper strips and continue sweating for a further three minutes.

4. Pour in the chicken stock, turn the heat to medium-high and leave to simmer uncovered, stirring frequently for 20 minutes, or until the peppers have a jam-like consistency. Stir in the basil and season with salt and pepper. Remove the bouquet garni, set the peppers aside and keep hot while you cook the halibut.

5. Pat the halibut steaks dry and season them all over with salt and pepper. Heat a well-seasoned saute or frying pan over a medium-high heat, then add a splash of oil. When it is hot, add the steaks and fry for three minutes before carefully turning over. Add the butter to the pan and continue frying for a further three minutes, basting with the butter, or until the flesh flakes easily.

6. Remove the halibut from the pan and leave to rest, covered with kitchen foil, for two minutes. Meanwhile, add a splash more oil to the pan. When it is hot, add the Padron peppers and saute for three minutes, or just until they are tender. Serve the halibut on the red pepper mixture with the Padron peppers.

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