A Cornish Cookery Course for Seafood Lovers

He’s written over 20 cookery books, hosted numerous TV shows and in 2000, Rick Stein opened the doors of his award-winning, Padstow cookery school. The bustling fishing village has become a destination for seafood and there is nowhere better to master the finer points of fish cookery than this. So when I was invited to go and try out one of their courses, I scuttled there faster than a crab along the shoreline. It turned out to be one of the best days out I’ve ever had in Cornwall and here’s why I think you’ll love it too…

The School

With its light and open learning kitchen and beautiful views over the Camel Estuary, this is a dreamy place to spend the day in good company, enjoying delicious fresh food. The school now offers over 30 different courses, from afternoon and evening sessions to four-day residential experiences. Topics range from Fish and Shellfish, what Rick Stein is best known for, to French Cookery and Asian Street Food, inspired by his travels. Students walk away with a repertoire of signature Stein recipes as well as a raft of new skills to take home to their kitchens.

I did a mid-week Fish and Shellfish course in February, which was a comparatively quiet month at the school but there was still a good crowd of 12 (max capacity is 16). From tentative fish cooks like myself to cookery course regulars, my fellow students came from across the UK and even as far Florida. Many were attending as part of a School & Stay package and we’re happily raving about the dishes they’d tried in Rick Stein’s various Padstow eateries.

What The Day Entails

After slipping on your shiny white chef’s jacket and apron, the day kicks off with a civilized coffee and a chat around the long table, meeting the other students and comparing Rick Stein notes (‘Have you tried the Fruits de Mer at the Seafood restaurant? But you must!’). Then followed the first demo, with head chef lecturer Nick, who’s full of Stein stories, after 12 years in the business as well as impressive fish trivia and insidery tips you can impress your friends with at your next dinner party. During the first cooking session, I’m feeling slightly pressured to get it just right — ‘what did he say to do with the saffron again?’ But as the day goes on, nicely balanced between demos and cooking, the wine flows and we all relax into a really fun day of chopping, eating and chatting. We leave with a smart book of the day’s recipes and fish cookery advice and the most enjoyably earned certificate I’ve ever received.

What We Cooked

There’s a choice of four menus on the Fish and Shellfish day courses — we were cooking Menu 3 on the day I attended, which includes:

Gurnard fillets with a potato, garlic and saffron broth. A great way to start, learning to fillet a tricky round fish before the wine comes out and it’s also perfect taste-wise because it’s a comforting and subtle dish, that was so welcome on a mizzly winter morning.

Next up are grilled scallops that we open, clean and cook in their shells, with a pesto-like sauce of pumpkin seeds, serano chilli and coriander. I checked these babies constantly with the jazzy fish thermometer, terrified of turning them to rubber but they were amazing and I was pretty pleased with my efforts.

This is followed by one of The Seafood Restaurant’s most popular dishes, Singapore chilli crab — with spider crab today because there’s a shortage of the other sort. I’m not sure my version is quite as finessed as Nick’s, on account of my less-than-pro chopping skills but it makes for fun, tasty and decadently messy eating.

Me with my spider crab – not sure who looks more frightened

And finally, a fresh-tasting, warm salad of monkfish and tiger prawns with a fennel butter vinaigrette. Another one I worried about over-doing but it turned out delicious and looked pretty professional too.

What We Learned

Plenty! I love cooking but have always played it safe with fish and rarely brave shellfish. My confidence has really improved and a few of the gems I picked up have already been put to use at home, which the true test of any cookery course. These are…

  • When frying fish, oil the protein not the pan! If you put the oil in the pan, you risk the oil burning as the pan heats up.
  • Most people then panic the minute they put a piece of fish in the pan. Go for the non-stick variety, begin skin-down and resist the urge to poke it about.
  • You can devein a prawn without even removing the shell – my new party trick. Just poke a cocktail stick through its body under the vein and gently but firmly pull it upwards. Ta da!
  • Don’t use a sawing action when you’re filleting fish or it ain’t gonna to look pretty! Stay as close to the bones as possible, using smooth, even pressure and a very sharp knife.
  • If you’re using a big clove of garlic (especially if it has shoots), remove the central section, which may be a bit green. It’s astringent and can cause grim garlicky heartburn. Something I’m now doing obsessively.
  • Finally, there’s more flavour in the stalks than the leaves of coriander, so chop them fine and chuck them in.

THE MUDDY VERDICT

Good for: Obviously you need to love food to enjoy a cookery course but you don’t need to be a great cook. It’s definitely a day out you can do alone, as it’s a super friendly environment but it would also be a great experience to share as a couple or with a friend.

Not for: Anyone on a diet – there’s a lot of food to taste throughout the day and this is not the time to hold back.

Cost: From £95 pounds for half-day courses to £780 for the four-day Fish and Shellfish extravaganza. My one-day course cost £198, which I thought was good value, considering the location, quality of tuition and the amount of amazing seafood (and perfectly chilled white wine) you will partake of on the day.

And don’t miss:

The special chef’s table events run by Jack Stein at the school in May and September and a new series from Rick, who’ll be exploring the culinary delights of Mexico. Any room in your case for a petite Cornish blogger?

Rick Stein’s Cookery School, South Quay, Padstow, PL28 8BY. www.rickstein.com/school

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