Food & Drink: Gastropod

FANS of Radio Four's Food Programme, which goes out on Friday lunchtimes and is repeated on Monday evenings, will by now be familiar with Henrietta Green's contribution, in which she roams the countryside seeking specialist food producers and asking them all sorts of pertinent questions. We have already been introduced to Michael Brown, who smokes freshwater eels over beechwood wearing a gas mask, and been into the fields with Michael Gibson, a transplanted Sassenach who farms and butchers extensively reared Angus beef in Forres, Grampian. We have met Richard Snowden, the eccentric market gardener from Yorkshire, and Wendy Brandon, the ex-schoolmistress who now makes chutneys, preserves and peculiar fruit mustards in the Welsh valleys.

Ms Green's gastronomic equivalent of Down Your Weirdo Way reaches the end of its run next Friday with a visit to Peter Redstone's Rocombe dairy in Devon, where the expatriate American flower child makes double rich and infinitely moreish ice-cream. In fact, Mr Redstone is making a special batch of cobnut-flavoured ice-cream for the launch party of Henrietta Green's Food Lover's Guide to Britain (published by BBC Books, pounds 9.99), a useful guidebook that includes 600 of the finest food producers and best shops in the country.

ONE WOULD think that cuisine would not be a high priority aboard a racing yacht, so the Gastropod is heartened to hear that the participants in this year's Whitbread Round The World Race will be kept in contact with the chef of the Cafe Royal, Herbert Berger, via BT's satellite paging service, VoiceCom. The idea is that Herbert, who saw the boats off from Southampton and cooked the last breakfast of real bacon and eggs that the contestants will see until they reach Uruguay, can supply recipes and culinary tips. The skipper of the British yacht Dolphin and Youth, Matthew Humphries, a 22-year-old who has been to catering college, reckons it is a brilliant innovation.

But Berger is not so sure. 'All their supplies are freeze-dried,' he explained to the Gastropod, 'so there's not much I can tell them to do unless they are lucky enough to catch a fish.'

THE ARRIVAL of mesquite marinated Mississippi catfish in the chiller cabinets of Tesco at an introductory price of 99p per fillet signals the first attempt to export the fish that has caused a minor revolution in America. Advances in aquaculture (fish farming) have promoted the catfish, which was once a strictly regional delicacy, to the status of fifth most popular fish in the USA.

Catfish, unlike, say, salmon, are ideally adapted to intensive farming and, being cartiliginous (boneless), are extemely easy to process. One drawback is that they are naturally bottom feeders, preferring to wallow in mud, sucking up nutrients and acquiring a distinctly muddy flavour, but farmed catfish will happily rise to the surface of their ponds to feast on soya pellets. The diet ensures a fish that is highly nutritious and packed full of Omega 3 fish oils, which Americans are convinced will prevent heart disease. Farmed catfish has what they call a 'delicate flavour', meaning it does not taste of much, which is doubtless why Tesco has decided to coat its catfish with a spicy marinade.

ANYONE CONTEMPLATING a trip across the Channel to stock up on cheap booze might like to know that the annual wine and beer show is going on at the Kursaal Casino in Dunkirk next weekend, from Friday to Monday until eight each evening. Organised by a charitable body called Les Chevaliers du XXme Siecle, it brings together 100 exhibitors from all over France, who will be delighted to let you sample their products before you buy. The entrance fee is a paltry Fr10 ( pounds 1), which goes to children's charities.

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