The featured recipes are rich in flavor and texture. How about Ham with Leeks and Cream Sauce to warm up a rainy afternoon? Or Yorkshire Gingerbread, a stunningly beautiful dessert heaped with cream. Some of the recipes are not for the faint of heart (or vegetarians); Rabbit with Anchovies and Capers, and Pigeon Breast with Honey and Ginger may not be everyone's cup of tea. Cooking with the Two Fat Ladies is quite an event--a culinary trek into the land of politically incorrect butter and chocolate, laced with a dash of quintessential British humor.
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Surrounded as we are by water, we are terribly served for fish. My sister once lived in the center of Spain, and the fish merchants came up from the coast three times a week with live fish. Here, the average fishmonger in large towns, when you can find one, offers a limited choice, and the fish is not always in its first flush of freshness. Supermarket fish is usually a disgrace and a victim of some central buying and distribution policy, which means it has traveled the country more times than Jennifer and I have in this series! The most useful tool in judging the freshness of fish is the nose, quickly followed by the eyes. The chances of your being allowed to smell an individual fish in a supermarket are slight, but you can challenge your fishmonger who will usually permit ou. Of, course, if you make a friend out of him you won't need to check.
As I wright this introduction, I am sitting in the Sharksfin Hotel in Mevagissey, having just enjoyed a well-earned hot bath laced with epsom salts. We have spent the afternoon at sea with two splendid crab fishermen. Jennifer and I were both soaked to the skin and had a high old time singing (at least Jennifer did) sea chanties with our new friends. The pots held a good haul of crabs and three of what passes for good-sized lobsters these days. When Queen Victoria visited Edinburgh they served a hundred-pound lobster as the centerpiece of her civic banquet!
The port is quiet today because many fishermen have gone up to London to petition Parliament to support our fishing industry. Yesterday I spoke to a vistitor who had gone up to Cornwall - he was only in his sixties - and he said , "It is impossible to believe that they have almost fished the seas dry." The best way to protect our fishing industry is, of course, to buy fresh fish. Then demand will keep our supplies from being exported.
Neither of us much believe the pronouncements of soi-disant health experts--we both eat fish because we love it, the fresher the better. So for once we are not out of step with these "experts" in believing in the health benefits of fish. However, do not bypass advice to eat oily fish by taking fish oil tablets--it isn't the same.
We have seen some wonderful fish since we have been here, such as the underrated coley, which Jennifer turned into a luscious fish pie. Coley--similar to pollack--is still amazingly underpriced and very good. We've also seen the hideous monkfish, the true denizon of the deep with its huge head and delicious flesh, ling cod, John Dory--still bearing St. Peter's thumbprint--the sad faced little gurnards, which Jennifer loves so much, and so many more.
In the "Mr. Bistro" restaurant on the quay, where we ate many meals, Sally, the owner, cooked us wonderful fish so fresh it needed little more than seasoning, and we laughed and flirted with Lawrence and Trevor and John et al. You don't need to go abroad to meet handsome fishermen.
In our recipes we have tried to give you a variety of uses for different fish, to suit all pockets and occasions. There are really only two things to remember with fish: by it as fresh as possible (we have given you tips to help with this) and please don't overcook it, because a very hot serving dish can easily remedy that situation.
When I cooked on a charter yacht in the United States, I wanted to bring back some steamer clams and Maine lobster for my brother, to convince him that New England seafood was the best. The customs officer heard the lobsters scrambling away in my bag and said I couldn't bring them through if they were alive. Can I if they are dead, I asked? Yes, said the customs officer. So, I took off my brooch in order to drive the pin through the brain of each lobster. What are you doing? Said the officer. I was planning to kill them, I replied. Not in front of me, you're not, says the officer. So I got them through alive.