I love ordinary sea fish, bought over the counter from a quality retailer. My favourites in that department are (in order of how often I enjoy them at home, the most frequently-eaten first) sea bass, haddock, salmon and hake - these are my four faves - then, if I feel self-indulgent, halibut, turbot and dover sole. Occasionally I will have something else, monkfish perhaps. And in my time I've eaten swordfish and similar. Usually it's a big thumbs up; although I tried pollack the other day, and didn't much care for it.
I'm not above having fish out of a tin: sardines, mackerel, red salmon, tuna; on toast as a midday snack, or with a salad. I've even attempted to make and cook my own fishcakes. But they weren't a patch on the delicious ones that M--- used to do. (How I miss her cooking!)
When in New Zealand in 2007, the fish was always superb. 'Fish and chips' in seaside places meant whatever had been the catch of the day. You didn't specify cod, haddock, huss or whatever as you would in the UK. It was pot luck, but never disappointing. M--- and I bought memorable take-away (and fresh) fish in all parts of New Zealand, for eating in our campervan as we toured around the two islands. Fish such as hapuku, blue moki-moki, butterfish and tarakihi. Here's an example of blue moki-moki from remote Collingwood, in the north part of South Island:
This fish was really flavoursome. Back home again, I once saw some hoki on sale in Sainsbury's, but only the once. What a shame you can't easily get hold of any NZ fish here. But then, does it make sense to fly it right across the world, just for UK consumers? Not really! Except that I can't see how I will ever be able to afford a trip to NZ again...
So, I love sea fish. But I'm a bit half-hearted where other seafood is concerned.
I quite like crab. And on the one and only occasion that I had lobster thermidor (in 1975, at a restaurant called O'Rourkes in New Alresford in Hampshire, when out with a past girlfirend) I enjoyed it immensely, even though it broke the bank. Not being a journalist, I've never tried Bolly and lobster. I used to like freshly-caught cockles, on the quay at Padstow in Cornwall.
But shellfish generally? Hmmmm.
Two things here. First, on odd occasions (a Lymington restaurant in 1977, and a Budleigh Salterton pub in 1999, quickly spring to mind) eating seafood that someone else has cooked has led to horrendous illness. That's got to reflect bad practice with food freshness and kitchen contamination, but it did make me wonder whether I might have a disposition to tummy upsets after eating anything in the shellfish line. It certainly made other people wonder. I well recall having to forgo - on my parents' say-so - a delicious-looking prawn starter at the sit-down meal that followed my wedding in 1983. And (with some reluctance, because I knew I would never return) driving past the nationally-renowned oyster packing plant and sales outlet at Bluff in New Zealand in 2007. Bluff oysters are reckoned the very best in NZ. We really should have stopped and got some to eat. But lingering doubts make me drive on. I have regretted it ever since. But those doubts have always prevented me trying a single fresh oyster. I've never eaten one, and have no idea what I might be missing!
Second, to be really honest, I don't find that shellfish has much flavour, and because of that it's rarely my first choice for something to eat when out, let alone to cook up at home. I so hate bland food. I'm not saying that shellfish has no flavour, only that it's most often a subtle flavour, easily overwhelmed by sauces and spices and stronger-flavoured food. Nor would I plead that shellfish always has a rubbery texture, because that chiefly depends on the cooking time. But fears about over-cooking - so easily done - have inhibited me from buying seafood when standing at a fish counter.
Till now. I'd been noticing that scallops featured regularly in Master Chef, and, not having tried them before, decided to buy some and see what I could make of them. It helped that I'd seen it demonstrated on screen what you do. I also looked on the Internet for best advice. Emboldened, I asked what price at Waitrose, and secured four ready-shelled scallops for about 90p each. It seemed a bit pricey, but not pricey enough to hold me back.
Back home, into the fridge they went, and then within a few hours I got them out again, washed them, patted them dry with kitchen tissue, put a slick of melted butter into a pan, and gave them all 90 seconds on each side. Then I added them to the rest of a salad that I'd already prepared - including sliced, seasoned and sautéed potatoes as the other hot element in the salad. This was the result:
Considering that I'd never cooked scallops before, it wasn't a bad outcome. They all had that lightly-toasted look top and bottom. The flesh had turned white, but it was still soft, and it tasted vaguely sweet. Each one was a luxurious morsel.
Would I have them again? Well, these four scallops cost me nearly £4 - not exactly cheap. Nor were they what you might call 'tasty and filling'. They were an appealing little treat, elegant parcels of white flesh. But frankly they reminded me of monkfish goujons. I don't think I'll be buying them again. And I would certainly hesitate about ordering them in a restaurant, given the price that might be asked.