Last Saturday proved memorable. I fully expect to get excited at the merest hint of fresh shellfish, but when the courier cheerily announced that I had a delivery from “Coast and Glen”, I can’t tell you how big a smile erupted.
I’m pretty familiar, admittedly, to polystyrene cartons arriving, usually bound in tape or shrink-wrapped and ensconcing a fully traceable offering from somewhere along the coast, but this was different. Whereas, normally I have total input into choosing the contents, this was more of a lottery, a lucky dip into the crystal clear and brooding waters of the North Minch and a bit like hauling in a favourite pot: you know they’ll be something lurking within it, but you’re not sure what.
Just so with this rather hefty parcel as, beaming to myself, I duly carted it to the kitchen, the customary and inquisitive gaggle of dogs, sharking expectantly round my feet. Of course I knew that it was coming; only a few weeks ago I’d been asked if I’d try a sample of Scotland’s finest, from a company aptly and descriptively called Fishbox, which try as I might, I can’t think of a more appropriate name.
Fishbox was created from an idea back in 2011, that Easter Ross creel fisherman, Magnus Houston developed, that took the concept of adding value to his catch by marketing directly to the consumer. Coast and Glen, the wholesale side of the business, had already proved its worth in supplying the catering trade with fresh fish and shellfish, but Magnus, ever entrepreneurial, saw merit in going the next stage and rolling out the concept to retail customers and hence Fishbox was born.
Coast and Glen had been set up using funds from the Prince’s Trust and with sustainability at its core, supporting local fishermen and their communities the whole concept was easy to replicate using a domestic market.
The premise is simple. The seafood they supply is not only fully traceable, but responsibly caught and seasonal in the first instance. This affords the customer the comfort that everything has been done during the catch process to maintain the integrity of the product from pot/net to plate. Secondly, the customer is able to influence what is delivered by subscribing to Fishbox online and then, very cleverly, using a simple tick-box system, stating their preferences according to type and species and thereby providing the packers with a reference point for the order.
The final contents of course, totally depend on availability, but Fishbox work with enough fishermen now to ensure continuity, not only of supply but also of price and that’s where the value in the supply chain is able to be passed back to them.
White, oily, smoked and shellfish are all available and preferences are classified into ‘loves, likes and dislikes’. Once subscribed and the frequency of delivery and order size (small, medium or large) have been selected, then it’s up to the fishermen and the diligent packers to decide what’s on offer!
Personally, I can obtain most white and oily fish using my own preferred suppliers, but prime, less than 48hrs old Scottish shellfish? I think you can probably establish where my preferences lie and I wasn’t to be disappointed.
I suppose the atmosphere in the kitchen was a reminiscent blend of Christmas morning and a childhood birthday. Even the dogs had stopped circling as I cut the tape and squeaked the polystyrene lid ajar to peek inside. Instantly, that seasalt tang hit my senses and transported me straight to the Highlands and Islands with a rush of ozone and salinity. Peeling away the cover, my eyes then feasted on a simply heavenly sight.
A bubblingly-live brown crab (a Partan, as they’re colloquially described, North of the border), hours-landed, creel-caught vibrant pink langoustines, a half dozen rock oysters from the Isle of Bute and a net of pearlescent, blue-black and spangled rope-grown mussels from the Shetlands, glistening majestically in the morning sun.
It looked a real picture, I confess and as my largest shellfish pot began to steam and hiss on the Aga, my mind turned to how I’d prepare these incredible ingredients, for a worthy shellfish feast that would exemplify the Northern inshore fisheries of Calendonia.
Also arranged, amidst this heavenly offering, were details of the capture, habitat and cooking instructions for each of the products, along with an introductory leaflet sporting the title “Welcome to the Sustainable Seafood Revolution” and a polaroid photo of the guy who packed my order, cheerily holding the bag of mussels – absolute music to my ears and no finer example of traceability
Bubbling away now, even the salted, cooking water excited me and having given the langos the benefit of a few minutes immersed in the roiling saline, I duly dispatched the partan with a well-placed skewer and plunged it under for appromimately eight minutes, as the telltale aroma of cooking crustacean, pervaded the kitchen.
Out on the cooling rack, they were a sight to behold, fresh shellfish, just-cooked and just-cooling, the bright and glossy hues and shades of marine life, now having transformed to the duller matts of their cooked form.
With the Shetland mussels cooked and prepared a la marinière with parsley, garlic and a modicum of sauvignon blanc, my thoughts became recipes and as I pondered the tomes of shellfish cookery from Floyd to Stein (including a good dose of Outlaw) time and time again, one exemplary way of showcasing this quality of seafood, rose to the surface.
Simple, succulent and sweet. Probably the best (and only) way to showcase freshly-boiled crab, langoustine and steamed mussels, with only the oysters in their raw form, shucked seconds before serving. No fancy accompaniments, just some freshly-baked crusty bread, a little homemade aioli, and a chilled bottle of Muscadet, being all that’s required.
For maximum, unadulterated flavour and so visually delighting, a stack of sea fruits on crushed ice with a garland of bladder wrack and sliced lemon, takes a lot of beating. I defy anyone not to go weak at the knees when faced with such a platter!
Bravo Fishbox! You did me proud and the sights and sounds of the Scottish North Coast will warrant my presence very soon, as there’s only one way to better this kind of gastronomic experience and that’s to eat the same, but only yards from where it was landed…..
For more details contact Fishbox:
Mike Warner April 2017