(PSA: I did want to blog about my whole first day at River Cottage HQ, but I cannot fit it all into one piece, and I just don’t have the energy- I promise there will be more to come)
Firstly, thank you so much to my AMAZING mum for giving me the chance to take part in such an amazing cooking course, it was a hugely generous gift for my 21st. This weekend my Mum and myself travelled about 40 minutes away from home to the River Cottage, Hugh Fearnley- Wittingstall’s cookery school.
So today, at a rather early 6.45am I was awoken with a lovely cup of tea, in order to get ready and eat before we had to leave for our cooking course. Arriving slightly early, we sheltered in the car from the foggy morning but eventually braved the cold and went to sit in a lovely wooden hut, complete with a log burner, whilst we waited for the tractor to collect us and take us to the main farm house.
River Cottage, a site that is low energy and low carbon (both very important to me), was first created in 1999 and became a regular feature on Channel 4. With this in mind, I was so excited to learn new skills, and increase my overall knowledge about food.
The tractor and trailer picked us up and, slowly but surely, we headed down the very bumpy farm track towards the main house – as seen on TV. On the route down our great guide Steve taught us about the farm animals and explained about what veggies were currently growing in the garden. Most veg is yet to come in to season, and some ingredients, for example the delicious wild garlic has had to battle with the recent snow.
We spent the majority of the day in a lovely converted barn. I think the best way to describe the interior is by imagining the Masterchef kitchen or the GBBO tent. There were kitchen worktops spread over the naturally lit barn, each station housing 4 people. These contained 1 fridge each, 2 ovens and a shared hob between 2. On our benches were a clean tea towel, a set of knives and a black apron- which by the end of the day, was not black anymore.
We were greeted by fresh coffee and the tastiest and stickiest hot cross buns I have ever eaten. I honestly don’t think another hot cross bun will ever compare. This set me up well for the day.
We started off by learning some basic skills, and as Connor taught us the purpose of each knife and how to sharpen the blades, I couldn’t help but cringe, and think back to the multiple times i’ve sliced my fingers. However, our teacher was obviously a pro, so there was no need to worry there.
One of the reasons I was especially excited about this course was down to the emphasis on locally sourced and seasonal ingredients. On the main bench were a long line of fish… big fish. I sent a picture of one to Jack and he said it was something you might see in River Monsters, I guess he was right. This big fish- head, tail and all- was a Hake, and later we also went onto filleting a brill too.
After carefully watching Connor fillet the hake with amazing care and expertise, it was now my turn. I was trying to act cool carrying this massive fish, pretending I wasn’t phased by its big googly eyes that somehow followed you round the room, but I was completely out of my comfort zone. After a few attempts I managed to remove the majority of the fish from the bones, with a little bit of help. After this however, the brill fish seemed a lot easier, and I felt like a natural.
I feel like I have so much I could write about after today, so I will try to only stick with the main cooking, although I learnt so much. I will try to cover everything as well as possible.
For lunch we had hake and vegetables with a herby sauce.
Firstly we learnt how to ensure our fish skin was crispy, by cooking it on a super high heat. I had to resist the urge to fiddle around once it was in the pan, but I was assured that if left, it would be perfectly cooked in no time. In the same skillet, I added purple sprouting broccoli, a large lump of butter and a clove of garlic. We were also instructed to add an anchovy, which ended up being broken down into the sauce, which added an amazing depth of fishy flavour. Whilst everything continued to cook in the skillet it was time to make our herby sauce, known in the chef world as salsa verde.
As I always stay clear of coriander, I chose to use curly parsley and chervil. Once the herbs were finely chopped I added the juice of 1/2 a lemon, 1 diced garlic clove and a big glug of oil. Ensuring everything was evenly coated, this sauce was then ready to garnish my fish. The fish became perfectly crispy and flaky, and I took this out the pan to rest slightly before plating up. To the purple sprouting broccoli , which will now forever be known as PSB, I added a few leaves of wild garlic, and allowed this to wilt slightly off the heat. All of the garlic, anchovy, butter, lemon and seasoning had infused into the veggies and they tasted completely amazing.
After plating my greens and the crispy hake I topped it off with a drizzle of my salsa verde. I was quite happy that I didn’t use all the herby sauce as it meant I could take some away with me- I can’t wait to use it when I am back in Brighton to lift my meals.
This plate of food was one of the best I have ever eaten, and to know that I managed to prep and cook it all myself made it even more rewarding, I feel very proud of myself after today. I wish I had the money and time to buy fresh fish at uni- but Aldi will have to do for now.
I wish I could blog about all of the other things I made today, and over the next week or so I 100% will, but after a day of chopping, filleting, smoking and curing I am completely exhausted, and I will be doing it all over again tomorrow.