Fishy business at Billingsgate Market

by - 20:35

Our wedding present last year, courtesy of my best man, was a cookery masterclass at Billingsgate Market in London and we finally got round to booking it for Saturday 10 June. The cookery masterclass started at 08:30 so we decided to get there by 07:00 so we can go round the market and buy some fish. And a good job we did too as the stalls start closing by 08:00!

Overview of Billingsgate Market
Overview of Billingsgate Market
A selection of the many different types of fish available
A selection of the many different types of fish available
The prices are usually on a par with your local fishmongers but if you look hard enough, you can grab a bargain and we managed to get two whole salmon for £20 which is the price for one on its own in your local supermarket! As you can see, the fishmonger was poking fun at us. There are places to eat there where you can grab some breakfast too.

A local fishmonger
A local fishmonger
If you want the freshest fish, the stalls open on Tuesday with the latest catch and this is when most restaurateurs will come and bulk buy for the week. Saturday is the main trading day as the fishmongers will try to deplete their stock ready for the following Tuesday. Billingsgate Market is closed on Sunday and Monday each week.

08:30 came by all to quick and we were upstairs awaiting our cookery masterclass to begin. As we were a sizeable group (18 in total) we were split into two groups where one would be doing the fish skills whilst the other was being shown cooking demonstrations and tasting. I feel we were lucky that we had the fish skills first as it would have been a bit too early to be doing the tasting in the periods of 09:00 - 10:30. As it turned out, we were doing our tasting near lunchtime. Perfect!

Before the skills began, we were shown what to look for in a fish and to be aware that it has come from sustainable stock. In fact, sustainable was the buzz word of the day as it was mentioned quite a few times. In selecting your fish, look for a nice bright eye, a clear 'slime' and not too droppy looking (a sign of age).

Fresh mackerel
Fresh mackerel
Our first skill was to cut and clean a fish which is what we take for granted when we buy it from a fishmonger or the supermarkets. The first task is to take out the gills which Mrs Mayochup did perfectly. I, however, made a mess of it and managed to chop off its head.

Removing the gills from the mackerel
Removing the gills from the mackerel
The second part is to clean the chamber of the fish and to remove the bloodline which was easy enough. The whole group managed that one.

Our chef, Sean, showing us how to cut open the chamber of the fish
Our chef, Sean, showing us how to cut open the chamber of the fish
Once that was done, we got to put it in a freezer bag to take home with us.

The second skill was to fillet a fish and we were all given a sea bream to practice on. This had a few more steps and you really have to concentrate to get a half decent result. First, with the scissors, you remove all the fins from the fish and then descale it. The next step is to score the fish along the top and the belly of the fish as this makes it easier to guide the knife through when cutting off the fillet.

Chef Sean supervising the pupils
Chef Sean supervising the pupils
The final step is from the tail upwards (so the knife is facing away from you), cut along the spine of the fish keeping it as close to the spine as you can until you reach the head. Then cut down on the head area to complete the fillet. Once this was done, we got to keep those to take home with us.

The final part of the course is, and always be my favourite, is the cooking demonstration and tasting. We were shown how to make oven baked lemon sole with seaweed, tomato and cheese, grilled mackerel with chilli and ginger baste, seafood laksa, baked fish en papilotte, and pocketed flat fish. After we were shown, we all got to taste the results and they all were amazing. During the demonstration, there was further mention of sourcing your fish from sustainable stock and if you see MSC (fish regulators) written on the fish packet or told by the fishmongers then you know that you have bought correctly. 

Seafood Laksa with bread. We were each given a recipe book to take home
Seafood Laksa with bread. We were each given a recipe book to take home
Grilled mackerel with chilli and ginger baste
Grilled mackerel with chilli and ginger baste
Pocketed flat fish
Pocketed flat fish
Baked fish en papilotte
Baked fish en papilotte
If you don't mind getting up early and you like fish, it is recommended that you give Billingsgate Market a visit. If you're willing to haggle a bit, you can pick up some terrific bargains if you want to book yourself on the cooking classes, you can find booking details in this link. 

Billingsgate Market
Trafalgar Way
Poplar
London
E14 5ST

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