There are three species of gurnard regularly caught in the British Isles: the red gurnard, which is the most common, the tub gurnard, which is very similar and often larger though not as common as the red, and the grey, which is the biggest of all three. I used to catch them regularly as a kid by accident when fishing for other species on boats in Lyme Bay and never really appreciated them as a good fish for eating. They would normally be used and sold as bait for lobster and crab pots – but today I have a slightly different attitude towards these great-looking fish.
Gurnard is still underrated, and the larger fish have great eating qualities either simply pan-fried or deep-fried like this – so don't ignore them if you spot them on the fishmonger's slab. You can serve with the obvious accompaniment, chips, or mushy peas – or try making a posh version by blending some frozen, cooked peas coarsely with a little stock and butter and a sprig of mint.
2 large gurnard weighing about 800g-1kg each, filleted and boned
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
Flour for dusting
Vegetable or corn oil for deep frying
For the beer batter
150g self-raising flour
150-200ml light ale or lager
Pre-heat about 8cm of oil to 160-180C in a large thick-bottomed saucepan or electric deep-fat fryer. To make the batter, put the flour into a bowl, then stir in the beer and whisk to form a smooth thick batter, before seasoning.
Season and lightly flour the gurnard fillets then dip into the batter, holding them by the tail and ensuring they are well coated, and drop into the hot fat a couple at a time. Cook for 5-6 minutes, turning them occasionally with a slotted spoon until they are golden and crisp, then remove and drain on some kitchen paper.
Serve with chips and mushy peas.