Norfolk chef teaches how to prepare shellfish
PUBLISHED: 13:25 25 July 2017
Steve Adams 2017
Love to eat shellfish but a little unsure how to prepare it? Richard Hughes can help
The six of us are standing in a smart kitchen in Norwich’s Assembly House hanging on to chef Richard Hughes’ every word.
Well four of us are; two seem a little distracted and are looking to sidle off, hoping no-one will notice.
Moving swiftly Richard grabs them, dispatches them with a huge cook’s knife and lobs them into a pot of boiling water.
“Sheringham lobsters are beautiful,” he says, “they’re usually a little smaller but lovely and sweet.” Indeed they are beautiful; before becoming a delicious dish we get a close look at their handsome blue and gold carapaces and impressive claws and a brief explanation as to why they’re so good. (Something to do with the chalky seabed off north Norfolk, if memory serves).
We’re here, willing humans and less enthusiastic crustaceans, to take part in one of Richard’s masterclasses on shellfish and as an occasional cook I’ve joined in to see what I can learn. The answer is; plenty.
We begin with a glass of prosecco and a lesson on Cromer crab – “the best in the world” – and how to dress one. Richard holds up a fat specimen and, with the practiced ease of the true professional, takes us through the business of removing claws and legs, of cracking the shell and scooping out the tender meat inside.
Claws and legs are also emptied and with a squeeze of lemon, some fresh parsley and nip of sea salt the white and brown flesh is prepared and neatly reinstated in the empty shell. A garnish of egg and more parsley and we have tomorrow’s lunch.
“Your turn now,” says Richard. It begins well enough as I dismember the crab, crack the shell almost perfectly, poke out the little bits of meat and move on to the claws. I’m a little tentative to start, tapping at the unyielding armour with the back of a knife to no effect. I apply a bit more vim, then a bit more and then a bit more and then I’m picking bits of shell and crab out of what’s left of my hair.
Richard is doing the rounds, nodding and making approving sounds as Julie, Helen and Carol produce fine-looking dressed crabs; he is kind about my rather less polished effort and we move on to the next topic; razor clams.
These are something of a Norfolk speciality as anyone who has ever crunched across the millions of empty shells on our beaches can attest. Richard has a tip for harvesting your own.
“Go on to the beach with some salt, find a hole, put the salt on and up they pop!” He produces a YouTube video as evidence. They do indeed pop up as if to say ‘what’s going on? Who put salt in my front door?’
We squeeze the long clams into our frying pans, the big shells opening up and allowing the hot butter to cook the contents. There is giggling in the room as we extract the cooked clams as they look – how can I say this in a family magazine? – decidedly male.
Whatever, in a sauce of boiled garlic, chilli and butter they are quite delicious, as are the mussels which we tackle next. I’ve always been wary of mussels, having in the past endured tough, gritty and chewy little pellets glued to their shells, but under Richard’s benign guidance we produce sweet, soft seafood with just the right hint of saltiness.
We round off the evening with a glass of rather fine Picpoul, the current choix du jour to accompany fish, and the lobster, which Richard prepares beautifully with fresh samphire and a cream sauce.
We’ve all learned plenty, heard some fascinating facts, been entertained and very well fed and watered. Richard is a fine tutor, passionate, engaging, patient and very relaxed. The lobsters might not agree, though.
The Richard Hughes Cookery School runs a wide variety of classes, masterclasses and technique evenings throughout the year.
For full details call 01603 626402, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.richardhughescookeryschool.co.uk