WELL SEASONED

The Blog

Welcome to our award winning blog

 

Here you can find a collection of our thoughts, reports and ramblings together with some fun things we find along the way. We try to update the blog at least once a week and more often during busy periods so make sure you check back regularly..

By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Aug 13 2017 11:00AM

Our rivers and streams are full of different species of fish, large and small. But perhaps the best known and certainly one of the easiest to catch, is the minnow. These small olive-brown fish can be found in most small streams and rivers, usually close to the river bank.


An afternoon on the riverbank catching minnows is a childhood memory that every seasonal family should share. The traditional jam jar and a piece of string will make a rudimentary trap but can break leaving shattered glass in the river. With a little work you can make a more sophisticated and safer version.


You will need:


• Two large (2 litre) clear plastic bottles of the same size and shape.

• About 2 metres of nylon string

• A pair of scissors

• Twist ties (the sort that you seal freezer bags with)

• A few pieces of stale bread or plain crackers for bait

• A bucket


First cut the neck off one of the bottles. Using a sharp pair of scissors, cut right around the bottle, at the bottom of the neck (where the bottle reaches its maximum width). Then, cut all the way round the middle of the other bottle. Discard the base of both bottles and one of the screw caps, into your recycling bin. Now, turn the smaller neck around and insert it into the base of the other neck. (The idea is to make an opening which is easy for the minnows to enter but harder for them to get out.) Firmly hold the two pieces together whilst you very carefully pierce six holes around the sides of the bottles, about 1cm below the cut edges. Firmly secure the two pieces together using the twist ties in five of the holes. Thread the string through the remaining hole and tie it securely (this knot needs to be strong as the trap will be heavy when you retrieve it.)


To use your trap, drop a few pieces of bait into the opening. Throw the trap into the water, (keeping hold of the string!) and allow it to sink. Leave for a few minutes (use this time to add some water into your bucket). You should see the fish shoaling around the bottle trap and, once there are some inside, you will see the bait moving as they take little bites. Smoothly pull the string to retrieve the trap from the water and you should have some minnows. Unscrew the cap (which is now at the base of the trap) and pour your catch into the bucket.


Minnows aren’t for eating so make sure you release them gently back into the river before you leave.


Did you know…? The word "goujon" is commonly used to refer to a thick finger of meat or fish (usually breaded and deep fried). It comes from the French name for another common freshwater fish, the gudgeon.


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Mar 7 2017 09:00AM

The cool, clear waters of the UK provide the perfect growing environment for one of nature's tastiest aquatic treats - the mussel.


This beautiful, blue bivalve can be found growing on most parts of our rocky coastline and harvesting some yourself is one of the most rewarding foraging experiences you can have.


Traditionally, you should only collect mussels in months with the letter ‘r’ in. The rule of thumb (which applies to most shellfish) is actually a shorthand way of saying that it's best to avoid shellfish during the summer months and there is some good science behind the principle. All shellfish tend to accumulate certain toxins that are found in (perfectly natural) algal blooms which tend to be at their peak during the warm weather. If you buy your shellfish from the shops there's no need to worry since all stocks are regularly checked for toxins but it does mean that March, before the warm weather arrives, is a good time to go on the hunt.


Pick the larger mussels – not only will they make for a better meal but they will have had chance to breed, keeping the population healthy. The plumpest specimens will be found below the high water mark on rocky beaches so check a tide table before you visit then get down there with your wellies and a good sized bucket. On the journey home, keep your catch cool with a damp tea towel.


When it comes to cooking, mussels need just a few minutes to steam open so they're the perfect convenience food and a rich reward for all your hard work.


If you look out the window and think it's too cold for a trip to the beach (and let's face it, March often is) then get down to the shops. Either wild or rope grown mussels are fine (three quarters of rope-grown mussels in the UK are now classified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council.) They are excellent value and you'll find them in any good fishmonger during the season.


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Mar 2 2016 10:28AM

Another app worth looking at today. This time from the Marine Conservation Society, the charity that does a huge amount of good work protecting out seas and the marine environment.


Available on both iPhone and Android the Good Fish Guide is an excellent, comprehensive app to help ensure your fish comes from sustainable stocks. The app has been around for a while but has been recently redesigned and updated (as you know if you read this blog regularly, fish conservation status does change and so it's worth having the most up to date info from MCS, whichever source you use).


Alongside sustainability information you'll find seasonal fish and seafood recipes from some of the country's best fish chefs as well as restaurants with excellent sustainability ratings.


The Good Fish Guide is free to download from the MCS website (use the link above) and gets a big fishy thumbs up from us.



By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Apr 2 2015 01:17PM

Tomorrow is Good Friday. Since biblical times Christians have fasted on Friday (the day of the week when Jesus was said to be crucified) but the bible was interpreted as forbidding the consumption only of warm blooded animals. Fish has long been seen as the exception.


The Vatican then commanded that no red meat should be eaten during Lent but that fish could be. It was suggested for many years that the papal edict to eat fish was the result of the Vatican's secret ownership of a fishing fleet that it wanted to prop up financially, but nothing concrete has ever been unearthed to support that particular conspiracy theory.


Interestingly though, fish consumption in the UK plummeted in the time of Henry VIII. His desire to marry Anne Boylen is well documented but the schism between England and Rome led Henry to relax the rules and as a result, fish nosedived in popularity (so much so that the command to fast on Fridays was reinstated by his successor to save the fishing industry).


The tradition has survived to this day and many of us will eat fish tomorrow. Before you buy the usual cod fillets, have a think about sustainable alternatives. At Well Seasoned we've been eating a lot of coley recently. It's a member of the cod family and so tastes and looks very similar but it lacks the same brilliant white colour (the main reason why cod remains so popular). One simple way roud that "problem" is not to eat it as fillets. We tried coley in these fantastic fishcakes last week and will be doing the same tomorrow.


If you believe in cod, give coley a chance this Good Friday!


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Jan 25 2015 09:00AM

Seabass are one of our most highly-prized eating fish. Originally known simply as bass, "seabass" has taken off in recent decades and is now the more widely used term, especially on restaurant menus.


They are generally found in coastal waters around the UK where they grow up to 1m long but the legal landing size is currently a more-likely 36cm (don't worry - the wee beastie you can see in the picture was safely returned to Chichester harbour!) They're difficult to catch and very, very tasty. They are available all year round although best avoided during their spawning season which starts in April and runs to early Summer. So, you've got a couple of months to go to the end of the current season.


Bass have huge mouths and will eat lots of different baits (although that doesn't mean they're easy to catch!) They put up a strong fight when hooked, which is one reason they are so highly sought after by anglers. In fact, estimates suggest that up to a third of the seabass cataches are by recreational anglers rather than commercial fishing boats.


Sadly, the high demand (and high price) for seabass means that stocks are under significant pressure at the moment and numbers have been in dramatic decline for several years. In Ireland there is now a ban on all commercial fishing and a strict closed season for recreational fishing (between 15 May and 15 June each year). During open season a maximum of two fish per angler per day is permitted. Similar proposals may soon be made for the mainland UK which would include a one fish limit and possibly an increase the landing size to 45cm.


Thankfully for food fans, seabass are also sustainably farmed in a large number of European countries, especially Spain and Turkey but, more recently, closer to home in Wales. So, you can now get your hands on some home-grown super-sustainable fish without worrying about depleting wild stocks.


The advice for now is definitely either to stick to farmed fish or, if you're going to buy wild fish, make sure they're from certified sustainable fisheries.

This is one of our favourite Winter seabass recipe which uses two other fantastic in-season ingredients - celeriac and kale: Panfried Seabass with Puttanesca Sauce and Celeriac Chips





By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Dec 3 2014 10:46AM

In December it’s very easy to get caught up in the meat-fest that is Christmas. Turkey, pigs-in-blankets and gammon are, of course, the mainstays of our festive menu. Pheasant, partridge, duck and venison are all in season and plentiful at this time of year too, so even the more adventurous will tend to look to the game larder for an alternative. It’s perfectly understandable and reflects our cultural reliance on meat at a time of year when vegetables become a little more scarce. But it’s a long (and cold and dark!) month so don’t forget the fish when you're planning your festive menu.


A quick glance at the fishmonger’s slab will see a seriously satisfying selection on offer in December - Cockles, Cod, Coley, Brown Crab, Crayfish, Gurnard, Lemon Sole, Lobster, Mussels, Oysters, Prawns, Razor Clams, Salmon, Scallops, Trout, Whiting, Winkles, Witch all feature on our seasonality chart this month and if you really can’t find something there to please you then you must be a pretty fussy eater (or possibly just allergic to fish…).


This week we cooked up a batch of wild Scottish mussels. Most mussels sold in this country are now rope-grown in sea lochs and, in truth, there’s very little difference between them and the wild variety. But as our fishmonger put it, the wild ones are “just a little bit sexier”.


Mussels are sweet and rich and pair well with some pretty punchy flavours. Most recipes use cider or white wine to create the cooking liquor but we went with a dry perry (pear cider) which really hit the spot. Mussels are tasty, sustainable and very good value. They’re also in season right through the winter so when you’ve gone cold turkey on cold meats, try knocking this up for a comforting fishy feast:


Mussels with Perry and Leeks

To serve 2:


1kg mussels

half a large leek, finely sliced

250ml dry perry

1 tbsp wholegrain mustard

2 rashers of bacon, diced

1 clove of garlic

100ml milk


Start by de-bearding the mussels (using a knife edge to help you grip, pull sharply at the fibrous strands sticking out of the mussel shell). Scrape off any barnacles and discard any mussels that don’t stay firmly shut when given a gentle tap. In a large pan, fry the bacon for 2-3 minutes. Add in the leeks and garlic and sweat for another 4-5 minutes. Turn up the heat, pour in the perry and stir in the mustard. Add the mussels and put a lid on the pan. Steam for 4-5 minutes, giving a good shake half way, until the mussels are open. Remove the lid, stir in the milk and heat for another minute. Serve in large bowls with plenty of the liquor and a chunk of crusty sourdough to mop up. Be sure to discard any mussels that don’t open up when cooked.




By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Oct 19 2014 10:25PM

Flyfishing used to be something of an elitist sport. Crystal clear rivers, clean enough to support our native brown trout are an expensive asset and ownership of one is still the preserve of the wealthy. However, after rainbow trout were imported to the UK in the early 1900s, thing changed. Rainbows are much less fussy about their water conditions and food, making them suitable for keeping in ponds and lakes. The result was that fishing for trout became significantly more accessible. For a very modest price, all anglers can now experience the thrill (and frustration) of flyfishing, with a pretty decent chance of catching a fish once they've invested a few hours learning the basics of casting.


For the seasonal foodie, rainbow trout provide a plentiful supply of seriously tasty, sustainable protein throughout the year - technically speaking, there's no seaon for them (as opposed to wild trout which have a rigidly enforced season from the end of March to the beginnning of October). However, trout are not fans of hot weather - the warm Summer sun can lull them into a stupor, when they're not keen to eat much, making them tricky to catch. So, as keen anglers, the cooler Autumn weather is something we really look forward to as it signals the return of our regular visit to the lakes. This weekend we spent Sunday morning at the Albury Estate, just outside Guildford. It's a well manicured estate for anglers of all levels, with three large lakes and a stretch of river.


One of the skills of flyfishing is to work out which insects the trout are eating on any particular day and picking a suitable fly to match. "Matching the hatch" is perhaps less important when fishing for rainbows compared to browns, but it's still very much part of the ritual and something that all fly anglers devote signigficant thought to. We had to have several attempts before the fish were interested in anything we put onto the water but once we'd cracked it and found a suitable fly (a blue flash damsel in case you're interested) we had our fish, leaving us plenty of time to get back to the Barn kitchen to cook up some very fresh trout.

Watercress is a classic accompaniment to trout (it's no coincidence that Hampshire is home to some of the country's finest trout rivers as well as its largest watercress producer) and beetroot is fantastic at this time of year, so we knocked-up this incredibly simple but richly-flavoured salad for an alternative, autumnal late lunch.


http://www.deliciousmagazine.co.uk/recipes/poached-trout-beetroot-and-new-potato-salad-with-horseradish-dressing


If you're keen to have a go at flyfishing (and we'd definitely recommend it) there is almost certainly a lake near you. Find somewhere that offers kit hire and instruction for your first lesson and get casting!


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Oct 4 2014 11:21PM

The extended Summer means waters off our coasts are still beautifully warm at the moment. OK, it's all relative but with the South coast being the mackerel equivalent of a steaming jacuzzi, they are plentiful and great value. Try cooking them up with some of the season's new roots and mash in this Omega-3-packed autumnal treat:


Spicy Pan Fried Mackerel with Celeriac Mash

(Serves 2)


2 fresh Mackerel

250g Celeriac, peeled and diced roughly

200g King Edward Potatoes, diced roughly (leave skin on to retain its fibrous goodness)

1 sprig Mint

Rapeseed Oil

1 Onion, finely diced

Knob of Salted Butter

Sea Salt and Black Pepper


For the Marinade:


1 tbsp Rapeseed Oil

1 ½ tsp Smoked Paprika

1 tsp ground Cumin

1 tsp ground Coriander

2 cloves Garlic, crushed

½ small Red Chilli, finely chopped

Bunch of both coriander and parsley (or whatever herbs you have handy), roughly chopped

Juice of ½ Lime

1 Lime, cut into wedges to serve

Sea Salt and Black Pepper


Method


1. Prepare the celeriac and potatoes. Pop in a saucepan with a sprig of mint. Cover in boiling water and boil for 25 minutes, until tender.

2. Meanwhile, make 3 diagonal slashes on either side of each mackerel.

3. Mix the marinade ingredients thoroughly together; using only 2/3 of the chopped herbs. Coat the mackerel in the paste and set aside.

4. Heat a drizzle of oil in a frying pan. Dice the onion and cook for 8-10 minutes on a low heat until soft.

5. Drain the root veg and return to the saucepan. Add the cooked onion, a knob of butter, mustard and a generous grind of salt and pepper. Mash well, but try to leave a few chunkier bits. Check for seasoning. Place a lid on the saucepan to retain heat and set aside.

6. In a frying pan, heat a little oil. Fry the mackerel for 2-3 minutes on each side. Using a fork, check to see if the flesh falls apart from the bone. When it does – the mackerel is cooked!

7. Spoon the mash onto the plates; place the mackerel on top and scatter with the remaining chopped herbs and a squeeze of lime. Serve with lime wedges.




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