My cooking skills are ok, but not much more than that. I can whip up a decent chocolate cake, make a fairly nice quiche and my go-to recipe is a retro chicken wrapped in prosciutto dish that almost never fails, however there’s not much beyond that. So when I was offered to try out a fish cookery class with Alastair Instone of School of Food, I happily said yes. I need to expand my repertoire.
School of Food is a newly launched London cookery school with a slightly different concept than the rest. Instead of having a fixed school venue, main tutor Alastair comes to his clients’ kitchens with ingredients, some utensils and lots of helpful tips.
I guess most people’s initial thought is that their kitchen isn’t good enough, but Alastair assured me that you don’t need a fancy, custom-built Poliform kitchen for a class. As long as you’ve got a hob and some pots and pans, you’ll be fine.
The class started off with a short introduction, which provided a good base for the rest of the session. We talked about responsible fishing and sustainability (avoid wild Atlantic salmon, Atlantic cod and brill), what to buy and when (flat, fish, sea bass and mackerel are in season now) as well as where to buy your fish.
I have to confess that I never go to the fishmonger, and I rely heavily on pre-packaged products. However, something to bear in mind is that when the fish has already been filleted, you don’t actually know what you get. You can’t smell it, nor can you see if the eyes are clear or the gills pale red, which means the fish you pick up might not be fresh at all.
After this quick but very informative talk I felt ready to take on the fish of the day, sea bream, and start preparing it. I was already getting hungry.
While I was cleaning, scaling and filleting the fish, Alastair talked about pairing flavours, a subject he’s clearly passionate about. Good pairings with sea bream can be rosemary, bacon, peas, tomato and even chorizo.
The fish cookery class is a 3 hour session, and during that time you learn how to prepare 3 different dishes, using 3 different cooking methods. For this class, we baked, sauteed and poached, and the best part is that you have 3 delicious dishes to enjoy when you’re finished.
The first technique I learnt to master was poaching. We used basil as the main ingredient and layered the herb on top of the sea bream, wrapped it in cling film and then popped it into a boiling saucepan. Poaching sounds incredibly fancy and difficult, but Alastair showed me that it’s a really quick and easy method, and I could even do it at home without a professional chef by my side.
The poached sea bream was served with new potatoes, shallots and bacon. Simply delicious.
Baked sea bream with tomatoes was up next, and I hope you notice how thinly sliced the tomatoes are. Alongside the cooking methods, Alastair also squeezed in some knife skills.
To pan fry (or sautée) fish can be tricky. My fear is to overcook it (nothing is worse than dry and tasteless fish), but with Alastair’s tips and pointers I feel confident to give it a go myself. To accompany the pan fried sea bream I whipped up a rosemary-infused beurre blanc, and lo and behold, that was the first sauce I’ve ever made!
I would happily recommend this class to anyone who wants to hone their fish cookery skills. 3 hours might seem like an awful lot, but the hours fly by and suddenly it’s time to kick Alastair out of your kitchen. The fact that you’re in your home, and with a tutor who clearly knows what he’s talking about, means that you feel confident to put your new skills into practise. And the hands-on approach saves it from being a dull masterclass affair, where in worst case you only get to chop up some lettuce.
To check out more of School of Food’s cookery classes, click here. How does a no-stress dinner party class sound for New Year’s Eve? Could be a life saver…