By the seaside

Rosie McGlade rolls up her sleeves for an introduction to preparing crab and sustainable fish dishes at a Tynemouth B&B, with top tips from host Sally Craigen. What a great way to spend a weekend

Dressing a crab is something you might want to do with friends, a bit like dressing up for a night out. It’s fiddly and time-consuming, but it’s fun done in company and inevitably leads to an occasion.  

White crab meat is expensive because of all this palaver, but you can buy cooked whole crab for not much more than a couple of pounds on North Shields Fish Quay, and once you know what you’re doing – dead men’s fingers are easy to identify and pull out, as it happens – it’s not half as intimidating as you may think.

Sally Craigen is on a mission to educate us about the glories of the North Sea and the accessibility of the creatures therein. Fish, she says, is great value, good for you, quick to cook and delicious. You can also buy it in good conscience, choosing types that are plentiful, though you may not always have heard of them.

Her latest venture, having bought a beautiful B&B on Tynemouth’s Front Street three years ago, are Taste of the Sea weekends, where guests are educated in sustainable fish and seafood, and offered myriad ways of preparing and cooking.

It’s a blustery, rainy morning as we head to the Fish Quay; we might almost be on one of the fishing boats. Sally is keen to promote her current favourite fish, gurnard. Sales are down considerably and if we don’t use it we’ll lose it, she warns.

Inside the fishmongers, the stars of the morning’s catch are beautifully arranged on ice; massive-headed monkfish, haddock, plaice, sole and all the usual favourites, with a shoal of motionless gurnards, some orange, some red.

“They come in different colours depending on where they’ve been feeding,” says Tony the fishmonger. He’s very friendly and Sally and her guests get to go to the 6.30am wholesale market, normally out of bounds to the public.

There are boxes of the day’s catch for sale for £5. A fiver! I buy one, with five haddock and five witch sole. Hopefully, by the time I get home I’ll know what to do with them. There’s another box bursting with 13 gurnards for £5 also.

Back to the kitchen, and first the crab, which we attack with nutcrackers and tiny prongs until all the meat is in a bowl. Sally’s weekend guests will make crab cakes with it.

“I also do a lovely Thai curry where you prepare it [ie, take out the poisonous ‘fingers’, and the worst of the bones, etc] but you don’t have to take the meat out. You eat it cooked with your fingers, which is messy, but very good,” Sally says. “And it’s wonderful with coriander and chilli in a spaghetti.” (Fry onions with garlic, add fresh chilli, mix in the white meat, add coriander and, if needed, a little more olive oil before adding to spaghetti, then serve with parmesan).

People don’t seem to know gurnard, a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall favourite which is sustainable and tasty, says Sally, who shows me how to do it with chilli and orange and also pan-fried and served with samphire and crushed potato and onion.

It’s amazing; just wonderful, and she is a great teacher. I come away thinking I must cook fish more often. What, dear reader, is not to love?

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