When a group of chefs and restaurateurs get together with fish dealers, boat owners and the like for a spot of competitive fishing, you know you're going to be in for an enjoyable couple of days. Mitch Tonks, of the award-winning seafood restaurant chain Fishworks, organises the annual Dartmouth Cup, which I have sadly been unable to attend in previous years, but I was determined to get down to the West Country for this year's event. One of the big plusses of being in the restaurant business, apart from looking after one's customers, of course, is the comradeship that exists between people in the trade – even though they might be competitors.
But a couple of Mondays ago, on a blowy day in Devon, there was the scent of competitiveness in the air. The local restaurateur John Burton Race was out on the water in front of his restaurant, The New Angel, having a little warm-up, while we were tucking into bacon sarnies at Alfresco's restaurant. As he grasped at his bottle of Cognac, Eddie Hart of London's Spanish food favourites Fino and Barrafina, was warming up in a slightly different fashion.
The conditions were not ideal and a few of us fell by the wayside, as well you might imagine after the pre-fishing welcome party we had the evening before.
Mitch and I sneaked in a day's fishing on the previous Saturday and caught a few black sea bream, along with a few stray mackerel that were brined and went straight in the smoker when we got back to Mitch's. Mitch, our photographer Jason Lowe and I all have a passion for gadgets. I found an amazing Bradley smoker in the Orvis tackle shop in Exeter at the beginning of the year and promptly ordered one, and then Mitch followed suit and put his to good use immediately. As he lives just yards from the water, he has a slightly better excuse for owning one than me.
The competition itself yielded few fish – in fact there were barely enough for a portion of mixed grilled fish. John's team got a small pollack and a wrasse and a pair of mackerel and the rest of the teams just caught mackerel. Luckily, we didn't have to rely on our catch for lunch. Mitch and his boys had organised a mega-seafood feast consisting of just about everything. Well done, Mitch.
These are just a few of the many fish and seafood dishes that he laid on and which can be easily replicated at home.
Potted smoked mackerel
After our semi-successful day's fishing on Saturday we just couldn't wait to get our measly few mackerel in the new smoker. What a great piece of kit the Bradley smoker is; it's the size of a small domestic fridge and takes disks of compressed smoking dust in whatever flavour you choose. You can cold smoke or hot smoke and like a kid with a new toy, I reckon I've got hours of fun ahead of me.
Assuming you haven't got a home smoker you can buy your mackerel ready smoked. I would recommend the whole ones for this, as less of the actual flesh has been exposed to the smoke. This makes a perfect quick snack on toast or just spooned on to a salad.
4 medium-sized smoked mackerel, boned and skinned
Olive oil to cover (about 150ml)
A few sprigs of dill
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Sterilise a couple of small kilner jars, then pack in the flaked pieces of mackerel with the dill sprig, seasoning each layer lightly. Pour in the olive oil, then place the jars in a pan, add water to just below the seal and bring to the boil. Simmer for about 15-20 minutes, then remove and leave to cool.
Grilled squid with cumin
I love the bitter, sharp and pungent qualities of cumin, which has a very addictive kick and is a key ingredient in Indian and Middle Eastern food. It works with most meats, fish and vegetables; and if you turn it into a marinade for squid, it just caramelises that creamy white flesh.
4 medium-sized squid weighing about 150g each, or 8 smaller ones, cleaned
Oil for the grill
For the spice mix
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
2tsp ground cumin
2tsp sea salt
Mix all of the ingredients together for the spice mix, then coat the squid and marinade for a couple of hours or more.
Pre-heat a barbecue or ribbed griddle pan. Lightly oil the grill and cook the squid for 2-3 minutes on each side. Serve with a crisp green salad.
Grilled scallops with garlic butter
12 small to medium scallops, cleaned in the half cup shell and left attached
For the garlic butter
5 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
150g butter, softened
2tbsp finely chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pre-heat a barbecue or griddle. Grill the scallops, flesh side down, for 2 minutes, then turn them and divide the butter between the shells and continue cooking for a couple more minutes until the butter begins to bubble.
Piri piri lobster
Piri piri is the Angolan name for a type of chilli, and the term came to be used all over the Portuguese empire for hot dishes prepared this way. Now you may think it's a bit extravagant covering a lobster in chilli, but why not? Shellfish and chilli are perfect partners.
2 live lobsters, weighing about 600-700g each
45g (or more to taste) mild red chillies
Half a red pepper, deseeded
4tbsp olive oil
A good pinch of salt
Lemon or lime wedges, to serve
Liquidise the chillies, red pepper, olive oil and salt in a blender until smooth.
Place the lobsters in the freezer for 30 minutes, then halve the lobsters by first inserting the point of a heavy knife through the head then cracking through the shell using the palm of your hand on the back of the knife. Score the flesh with the point of the knife in a criss-cross fashion, then spoon the piri piri sauce over. Leave to marinade for 30 minutes.
Pre-heat the barbecue, griddle pan or a hot grill. Cook the lobster for about 5-6 minutes on each side. Turn them sooner if they are beginning to burn (or move them to a cooler part of the barbecue if that's how you're doing them). Serve with lemon or lime wedges.
What else to eat in October
* If you're a game lover, then this month you can enjoy the whole lot: game birds, grouse, partridge, wild ducks and pheasant.
* Native oysters make a great simple starter for the above, served just as they are, or with a squeeze of lemon.
* There are still some good blackberries around, thanks to our erratic summer, along with the odd bunch of loganberries, tayberries and elderberries.
* You foragers will be having fun in the woods looking for ceps, chanterelles and trompettes de la mort (if you're very lucky).
* It's the start of the root vegetable season – make sure you don't overlook jerusalem artichokes. ELots of beautiful pumpkins and squashes are here now; perfect with risotto or pasta.Reuse content