Tim Hughes's shellfish recipes

A dreich January dawn, and we're in a tiny boat by a lighthouse off the coast of Mull, an icy wind cutting through my six layers of wool and rubber. I start to shiver. A hundred feet below us Guy Grieve is feeling his way along the seabed in search of an obsession of his: hand-dived scallops from pristine island waters, to be plucked, packed and shipped to the legendary London fish restaurant, J Sheekey.

As I anxiously watch the buoy, signalling Grieve is still alive, and try to stop shaking long enough to admire the snow-capped peaks by Tobermory, I realise I will never look at roasted scallops in the shell in quite the same way again.

Grieve is passionate about scallops and the island shore that they inhabit. This is the last British wilderness, he says of the undersea landscapes he forages, almost unimaginable from the relative safety of his inflatable boat. He sees scallops as an emotive foodstuff, a symbol of the fight against industrial dredging and the destruction of heritage and habitat.

At the opposite end of the country, in Dartmouth, Simon Mitchelmore shares the same pride in his catch on board the Excel DH71. Mitchelmore lays out 1,400 crab pots a day, primed with gurnard (only the best bait will do). No one really knows why Dartmouth crabs are the most desirable in world: the crabbers say it's the rich nutrients washing off the moors into the sea off Start Point. They tell you it's because the crabbing grounds are protected from Brixham dredgers and trawlers and that generations of men like Mitchelmore have a feeling for the waters their ancestors fished. But ask the Chinese traders who fly them live to Beijing and they will simply tell you that Dartmouth crabs are sweeter, bigger and better than the rest.

The dangers fishermen risk to supply us is brought home when fishingboat the Purbeck Isle goes down two days before we are due to join another Weymouth boat. Skipper David McFarland, 37, and crewmen Jack Craig, 22, and Robert Prowse, 23, were widely seen as the best in their class, supremely skilled in landing Dorset Blue lobster, crab and whelks for the thriving Korean market. But all three drowned off Portland Bill on 17 May this year. I watch as families huddle round a makeshift harbour shrine strewn with flowers, bottles of beer and whisky, left half full for the lost men to finish. For today at least, there will be no fishing from here.

My last coastal stop is the moody West Mersea marshes on the Essex coast which have supplied J Sheekey with their iconic native oysters for more than a century. Mike Dawson first worked the oyster lanes as a boy before he saved enough to buy his own boat. There is something of the virtuoso in the way Dawson opens his oysters, although he might not thank you for saying so. His fingers work expertly, feeling for the moment the hinge will crack, the muscle give and the shell spring free. He spins the oyster round, working his narrow-bladed knife underneath the meat. Quietly smiling, he flips it proud on the cup side and offers it to me.

I can't guarantee your own oysters will open as easily, your crab will come from south Devon or that your scallops will have been dived for only hours before. But I can promise the chefs at J Sheekey understand how to cook shellfish, and that these recipes are the finest they have gathered over more than 100 years.

Pan-fried scallops with creamed cauliflower, bacon and wild garlic

Wild garlic grows freely in British woodland and on riverbanks from early spring through to the end of May. Serves 4.

scallops 12 medium to large, removed from the shell and cleaned
extra-virgin olive oil 1 tbsp
unsalted butter 80g
streaky bacon or pancetta 60g, cut into 1cm strips
wild garlic leaves a handful, chopped (or 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed)
salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the creamed cauliflower:
cauliflower 1 small head or ½ a medium
unsalted butter 20g
vegetable stock to cover
salt and ground white pepper

Chop the cauliflower into small pieces, place in a saucepan with butter and pour over just enough vegetable stock to cover. Add a pinch of salt, cover with a lid and bring to the boil. Simmer for 10 minutes, checking occasionally. Remove the lid. The cauliflower should be soft. If there is any liquid left, turn up the heat until it has almost evaporated. Liquidise until smooth. Check seasoning and transfer to a clean saucepan. Leave to one side.

Season and oil the scallops on both sides. Heat a nonstick frying pan until almost smoking and cook the scallops on a high heat for 2 minutes on each side. Transfer to a plate. Meanwhile, melt 20g of butter and gently cook the bacon (add the garlic cloves now if you are not using wild garlic) for 2 to 3 minutes without colour. Add the rest of the butter and heat until bubbling. Add the scallops and wild garlic leaves (if using). Season. To serve, gently re-heat the creamed cauliflower and spread a couple of tablespoons in the centre of warmed plates. Arrange the scallops, bacon and garlic mixture over the top.

Champagne oysters with scrambled egg

A wonderful dish to enjoy when you feel like spoiling yourself, or others. It also works very well as an appetiser. At J Sheekey, we always serve this at Christmas. Serves 4.

rock oysters 12, shucked, juices and shells reserved
sevruga caviar (optional) 10g

For the champagne butter sauce:
champagne or sparkling wine 150ml
double cream 75ml
unsalted butter 60g, diced

For the scrambled eggs:
unsalted butter 30g
free-range eggs 4 medium, beaten
double cream 30ml
salt and ground white pepper

To make the sauce, bring the champagne to the boil with the oyster juices. Simmer the oysters in the champagne for 30 seconds and remove with a slotted spoon. Reduce the champagne by three quarters. Add the cream and simmer until reduced again by two thirds. Take off the heat, add the butter and stir gently until smooth. Keep in a warm place, with the oyster shells.

Next, make the scrambled eggs. Melt the butter in a pan, add the eggs and cream, and season. Stir over a low heat until the eggs are just cooked. To serve, divide the scrambled eggs between the warmed oyster shells. Heat the oysters in the sauce, being careful not to let it boil or it will separate. Place the oyster on the scrambled egg, coat with a little sauce and finish with a teaspoon of caviar (if using).

Baked spiced crab with toasted sourdough

A Spanish-influenced crab dish with sherry and garlic. Serves 4.

extra-virgin olive oil 100ml
onion 1 small, peeled and finely chopped
garlic 1 clove, peeled and crushed
fresh ginger a 2cm piece, peeled, finely chopped or grated
mild chillis 2 medium, de-seeded and finely chopped

fino or manzanilla sherry 40ml
fish stock 50ml
brown crab meat 200g
fresh white breadcrumbs 50g
lemon ½, juiced
white crab meat 100g
salt and freshly ground black pepper
sourdough bread sliced and toasted, or baguette

Gently heat a heavy-bottomed saucepan with 30ml of olive oil. Add the chopped onion, garlic, ginger and chilli and cook over a low heat until soft, but still pale in colour. Increase the heat and add the sherry, allowing it to boil and reduce by half. Remove from the heat. Stir in the fish stock and brown crab meat and mix well. Add most of the breadcrumbs and half the lemon juice, and season.

Return to the heat and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Put one third of the mixture into a blender with the rest of the olive oil. Blend and stir back into the remaining mixture, along with the white crab meat. Add the rest of the lemon juice and season to taste.

Spoon the mixture into an oven-proof serving dish and scatter the rest of the breadcrumbs on top. Lightly brown under the grill. Serve with thin slices of toasted sourdough or a warm baguette.

Razor clams with chorizo and broad beans

Perhaps the most striking-looking of clams. Serves 4.

razor clams 8, live, good-sized
flat-leaf parsley ½ a small bunch, stalks retained, leaves chopped
shallots 2, finely sliced
white wine 100ml
extra-virgin olive oil 1 tbsp
cooking chorizo 1, 150g, cut to ½cm slices
broad beans 100g, podded
salt and freshly ground black pepper
lemons 2

For the garlic butter:
unsalted butter 150g
garlic 6 cloves, peeled and crushed

Mix the crushed garlic into the butter. Roll in clingfilm and keep in the fridge until required. It will keep for up to 2 weeks and can be frozen.

Cook the broad beans in salted boiling water for 3 minutes. Drain in a colander, plunge into cold water and drain again. If they are large, pop the skins off with your fingers. If not, they'll be fine unpeeled.

Now prepare the razor clams. Start by washing them in cold running water for 10 minutes. Place the clams, parsley stalks, shallots and white wine in a pan. Cover with a lid and cook on a high heat for 2 minutes until all the shells have slightly opened. It is important not to overcook the clams or they will toughen. Drain in a colander.

Carefully remove the clams from their shells, keeping aside the intact shell to be used for serving. To prepare the clams, cut away the dark-looking sack and discard, slicing each into 3 or 4 pieces. Add olive oil to a heavy-bottomed frying pan and gently fry the chorizo for a couple of minutes. Add the clams, broad beans, parsley and 20g of garlic butter. Stir well, checking the seasoning. Place the shells on plates and load them with the clam and chorizo mix. Serve with halved lemons.

Potted shrimps

A simple starter that can be made the same day, or a few days before. Serves 4.

unsalted butter 100g
lemon 1
ground mace a pinch
cayenne to taste
anchovy essence 40ml
brown shrimps 200g, peeled and cooked
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place the butter in a pan with the juice of half the lemon, ground mace, cayenne and anchovy essence. Simmer on a low heat for 2 to 3 minutes. Remove and allow the mixture to cool until just warm. Add the shrimps to the butter mixture. Stir well and check seasoning. Pack the shrimps into ramekins or small Kilner jars and put in the fridge to set. Remove from the fridge at least an hour before required and serve with toast and lemon wedges.

Mussels with cider and gloucester old spot bacon

A British take on moules marinières. Serves 4.

mussels 2kg, live
extra-virgin olive oil 30ml
onion 1 small, peeled and finely chopped
garlic 1 clove, peeled and crushed
Gloucester Old Spot streaky bacon 100g, chopped (any good-quality bacon is fine)
thyme 1 sprig
dry cider 150ml
double cream 100ml
flat-leaf parsley 1 small bunch, chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Wash the mussels in cold water, removing the beards. If the mussels are open, pinch them. If they do not close, discard them. In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan (you may need to cook in two batches), add the oil and gently cook the onion, garlic, bacon and thyme until soft. Add the mussels and cider. Cover with a lid and cook on a high heat, giving an occasional stir, until the mussels have opened. Add cream and parsley, and check seasoning. Bring to the boil for a minute, and serve immediately.

• This article was amended on 7 November 2012. Originally the quantities of cayenne and anchovy essence in the potted shrimp recipe had been transposed. This has been corrected

• J Sheekey FISH by Tim Hughes and Allan Jenkins is published by Preface at £25. To order a copy for £20 with free UK p&p, go to guardian.co.uk/bookshop or call 0330 333 6846. Nigel Slater returns in two weeks

Thanks to guardian.co.uk who have provided this article. View the original here.


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