Chef-owner at Cafe Môr, Freshwater West, Pembrokeshire
Jonathan Williams has been out picking seaweed on the Pembroke coast, which he does three or four times a week, collecting kelp, dulse and laver. He’ll then take it to a production unit to be washed, then dehydrated or, if it’s laver, boiled for hours until it’s soft and, Williams says, looks disgusting. This is called laverbread. “The Welsh delicacy,” he says.
“It’s such a unique ingredient to Wales, I was always shocked it wasn’t more readily available,” he says. This enthusiasm drove Williams to give up a job as a sustainability consultant to concentrate on Welsh food, especially seaweed, starting out at farmers’ markets, supplying local shops and opening Cafe Môr. Môr means sea in Welsh, so it’s an apt name for the takeaway trailer in a beach carpark that’s a hit with everyone from local farmers and surfers to tourists.
Laverbread may not be the prettiest but Williams says people love to hear about it. It goes into the breakfast rolls, and laver has even added a mineral note to Môr’s brownies and ginger cake.
For the rest of the menu, Williams keeps it simple with local seafood. Crabs and lobsters – “the best in the world” – go into rolls, and the famous fish butty is made with whatever is fresh off the boats. “We use a lot of grey mullet now, it’s fantastic,” says Williams. “The sea bass here is extraordinary.”
Last summer, he says, business was unprecedented. “We were doing over 600 covers a day.” He worked 120 days straight and he’s bracing for more of the same. He understands why: the Pembrokeshire coast has 90 beaches plus a growing food scene. “Great coastal pubs and restaurants, and farmers doing pop-up food,” he says. “The pandemic has led to an explosion of people experimenting with their own produce.”
The ultimate fish-finger butty (pictured top)
This is for when you have all the time in the world to make a sandwich. At Cafe Môr, we like to add a little lobster or crab meat to the aioli.
sustainable white fish 2-4 x 100-140g fillets (depending on how hungry you are)
plain flour 100g
egg 1, whisked
olive oil for frying
sourdough 8 slices
salted butter the best is Welsh (as it is the saltiest at 3% salt) or you can use seaweed butter
mixed leaves a handful
avocados 2 ripe ones, sliced
marsh samphire a small handful, optional (or rock samphire, if you can get it)
capers 1 tbsp, or chopped gherkins
seaweed salt to season – or you can cut up nori sheets (sold in most supermarkets) mixed with sea salt
lemon wedges optional
For the saffron aioli (makes about 300ml)
saffron a pinch
boiling water 1 tbsp
dijon mustard 1 tbsp
lemon juice of ½
garlic 1 clove
cider vinegar a dash
rapeseed oil 150ml
olive oil 50ml
lobster or crab meat 50g (optional)
Dry the fish fillets with kitchen paper and cut to desired fish-finger shape – I like odd shapes. Dust your cut fish pieces in flour, then dip in the whisked egg and then dip in breadcrumbs and set aside.
Now make the aioli. Add the saffron to the boiling water and leave to infuse for 10 minutes. Whizz up the eggs, dijon mustard, lemon juice, garlic and cider vinegar. Then slowly add the rapeseed oil and olive oil until thick. Finally add the saffron, then stir in the lobster or crab (if using), and season to taste.
Now heat up a cast-iron pan. When it’s hot, add a little olive oil and place the fish-finger fillets in the pan. Fry until cooked and crisp and golden on each side. Toast the sourdough, then begin to assemble the finest fish-finger sandwich in all the seven seas.
First, spread butter on the warm bread, then add a thin spread of the aioli across the 4 bottom slices. Top the bottom slices with the mixed leaves, fish fingers, sliced avocado, samphire, a fat dollop of aioli, the capers or gherkins, then season with seaweed salt and freshly ground black pepper. Finally, if so desired, squeeze over some lemon juice, and top with the other slice of toasted sourdough.
Cafe Môr, Freshwater West Beach Car Park, nr Castlemartin, Pembrokeshire
Head chef and co-owner at Inver Restaurant and Rooms, Strathlachlan
“Some kitchens’ dry stores are further away than the water is from our kitchen,” says Pam Brunton, co-owner of Inver, a restaurant with rooms on the shores of Loch Fyne, Scotland’s longest sea loch. It is, she says, an excellent place to be a chef.
She works with local suppliers, and knows them all by name. “They people the menu as well as the community.” They bring wild mushrooms, Highland beef and game from the hills, vegetables and salads from local gardens and hedgerows and, of course, shellfish from the loch. Brunton says that visitors to the area should look for hand-dived or kreeled shellfish – excellent crabs, langoustines and scallops are all pulled from the pristine waters. Loch Fyne was once famous for herring, she says, but they were overfished decades ago. Working closely with fishers amplifies a sense of what’s been lost. “It makes you all the more aware of your responsibility – as a cook, as a shopper, as an eater – of what it is you’re trying to preserve.”
Like the rest of Scotland, Brunton and her partner Rob Latimer are poised for a busy summer, adding that their part of the coast is the kind of stunning, remote landscape people associate with Scotland. “Here, you can socially distance all you like.”
Mussels, fino sherry and burnt cream
“Burning” the cream is a technique I learned from Magnus Nilsson at his restaurant Faviken in northern Sweden, when we spent a few weeks in the kitchen there in the winter of 2013. It’s like making a cream version of Scots’ black butter, or the French beurre noisette: you caramelise the milk sugars for a sweeter, deeper, nutty flavour. It also concentrates and thickens the cream, so you get a better texture to the finished sauce.
Serves 1 as a main dish, or 2 as a starter
double cream 150ml (to make 75g, or 2 heaped tbsp, of burnt cream)
rope-grown mussels 500g
butter 15g (1 tbsp)
garlic 1 clove, finely chopped
black garlic paste 1 tsp (optional)
fino sherry 50ml
dry white wine 50ml
flat-leaf parsley about ½ tbsp, finely chopped, for each bowl
good bread and butter to serve
First burn your cream. Heat a heavy based stainless steel or cast-iron pan, approximately 18cm in diameter, till it’s screaming hot: when you flick a little water at it, the water should ball and skitter around the base of the pan for a few seconds before disappearing in a puff of steam.
When the pan is this hot, add the double cream. Don’t touch it for a full 30 seconds. Then remove the pan from the heat and whisk emphatically. The cream should have started to brown on the bottom of the pan, and in whisking it you’ll mix the browned bits through the cream. Allow the pan to sit off the heat for a few minutes, then whisk again. If the cream has started to split (ie, if it looks a little oily) then add a spoonful of fresh cream or water and whisk to recombine it. Scrape all the cream into a small bowl or container, and wash the pan.
Clean the mussels by washing them under cold running water. Pull off any “beards”, and discard any mussels that are gaping open and won’t close under the pressure of the water. Drain well.
Return the pan to a gentle heat and add the butter. When the butter has started to foam, add the chopped garlic and black garlic paste (if using). Cook gently for a few moments, then add the fino sherry and white wine. Simmer the wines to reduce them by around half. Add the burnt cream.
Now add the cleaned mussels. Immediately put a lid on the pan and turn the heat up to full. Cook the mussels for 1 minute, then shake the pan, and stir the mussels. Cook for 1 minute more. Lift the lid and have a look – the mussels should now be gaping open. Discard any that are still tightly closed, as these were dead from the start. Squeeze the half lemon, and add the juice to the pan.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer the mussels to warmed bowls, leaving the liquor in the pan. Use an immersion blender (or a whisk) to emulsify the sauce, then add the chopped parsley. Pour the liquor over the mussels in the bowls. Serve straight away, with good bread and butter.
Inver Restaurant, Strachlachlan, Stachur, Argyll & Bute
Head chef at Emily Scott Food, Watergate Bay, Cornwall
Twenty years ago, Emily Scott fell in love and moved from the south-east of England to Cornwall to marry a fisherman. The marriage ended, but her love for the county remained. “Cornwall is magic,” she says. “The north is so rugged and beautiful, with surfing beaches, and then on the south coast you’ve got sailing, palm trees, flowers – it feels very Mediterranean.”
Until recently, Scott ran a pub in north Cornwall, but has now taken over a beachfront site at the Watergate Bay, formerly occupied by Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen. Here, she writes a simple set menu for lunch that changes daily, governed by what her vegetable grower has harvested and what the day boats land – today it’s hake and mullet. “Whatever people bring in, I want to tell their story,” she says. For evening service, she switches to an a la carte menu and will add a few choices – perhaps whole brill with seaweed butter, or lobster roasted over coals.
At times, Scott has wondered if perhaps she’d like to have a restaurant in a bigger city, but she wanted her three kids to grow up by the coast and, she says, with more people making a permanent move to the area, the long, shuttered winters are disappearing into the past. Cornwall is pretty much open year round, and the evolving food scene reflects that. “There are so many people doing really good things down here.”
Kedgeree with leeks, wilted spinach, herbs and creme fraiche
A versatile dish, perfect for a weekend brunch, feeding a crowd, as a moreish hangover cure or quick midweek supper. Fresh salmon or haddock can replace the smoked fish if you prefer.
long-grain brown rice 450g
bay leaves 2
cardamom pods 2, split
undyed smoked haddock 650g, from a sustainable source, pin boned
leeks 3 medium, trimmed and sliced thinly
garlic 2 cloves, finely chopped
good olive oil 1 tbsp
curry powder 1 tsp
dried chilli flakes a pinch
baby spinach 100g, washed, stalks removed
creme fraiche 250ml
flat-leaf parsley 3 tbsp, roughly chopped, plus extra to serve
coriander 2 tbsp, roughly chopped, plus extra to serve
lemon juice of 1
eggs 3, just hard-boiled, halved
piment d’espelette (Basque-style mild red pepper) to serve
Cook the rice in a pan of boiling water (according to packet instructions), drain and refresh under cold water.
In a saucepan big enough to fit the fish, heat the milk with the bay leaves and cardamom pods. Bring to a simmer, then turn off the heat. Add the fish to the pan and gently poach it in the milk for 10 minutes, with the lid on. Use a slotted spoon to remove the fish to a plate, and remove and discard any skin or bones. Set both the fish and milk aside.
Place the leek and garlic in a large frying pan on a medium heat, with the butter and olive oil, and gently cook for 10-15 minutes. Never rush anything from the allium family.
Stir in the curry powder, a pinch of chilli flakes and gently cook out the spices. Gently fold in the rice so it stays light and fluffy, stir in the warm milk and bring back to a simmer. Then stir in the spinach leaves and cook for 3-5 minutes, until just wilting. Stir in the creme fraiche. Season with sea salt and black pepper and stir in the chopped herbs and lemon juice.
Fork in the poached fish. Taste and consider for seasoning. Halve the eggs lengthways and arrange on top with extra herbs and a sprinkling of piment d’espelette to add a little kick.
Place in warm serving bowls, although I love nothing more than serving this from the pan, placed in the middle of the table, for everyone to share.
Emily Scott Food, on the beach, Watergate Bay, Cornwall. Sea & Shore Recipes & Stories from a Kitchen In Cornwall is out now (Hardie Grant, £26)
Head chef and co-founder at Native Seafood & Scran, Coleraine
In 2019, Steáfan and Rebekah McCarry had, they thought, finally realised their dream of opening a seafood restaurant in the area they grew up. They’d secured a location on Coleraine harbour and had building plans in place. When Covid-19 put a halt to renovations at Native, and the McCarrys found themselves jobless, they decided to open as a fishmonger and takeaway pod. The problem was, like many small coastal towns, there was no local demand for seafood. The area had previously been overfished, what was landed was shipped off, the locals had lost a taste for it, and now the tourists weren’t coming.
“We started with monkfish sausage rolls, and made fish hot dogs,” Steáfan says. “It all took off from there – it’s still taking off.”
Their real stroke of brilliance was telling people how to cook the fish they bought, including sending recipes with online orders – and cooking those recipes at the pod. “We also spent a lot of time talking to people who came in,” says Rebekah, convincing customers to cook fish whole, or try something new. “For example, ling is something that we’re proud to sell.” Formerly seen as a bait fish, something cheap and old fashioned, the McCarrys taught people that it was as good as cod or haddock, and a lot cheaper.
Steáfan also gets excited about the mackerel that his lobster guy line-catches and brings in, still jumping about: “To work with something that’s still got seawater on it is incredible.”
Renovations are again under way and Native proper will open later this summer. Thanks to local support, the fishmonger and the takeaway side of the business will remain. “Whether people can afford to buy a big turbot or whether it’s fish tacos, they still have the option to come here,” says Steáfan. “We’re making fish approachable for everybody.”
Plaice with pancetta, gremolata, cauliflower pickle and baby potatoes
At Native, whether visiting our restaurant or fishmonger, we encourage people to try flat fish cooked on the bone. This not only imparts more flavour but also reduces waste. We have detailed how to take off the head, tail and dorsal fins, but if you feel comfortable they can be left on. Ideally, prepare the pickle 24 hoursbefore starting the rest of the dish, however it can be done straight before preparing the meal.
parsley 45g, chopped, use a sharp knife (be careful not to bruise it)
garlic 4 cloves – 2 grated, 2 sliced
lemons 2, both zested, 1 cut in half
baby potatoes 500g, halved
whole plaice 1 large, 650-800g, bought from your local fishmonger
olive oil 2 tbsp
unsalted butter 3 tbsp (about 45g)
green beans 200g
mint 10g, finely chopped
pancetta 130g, cut in small lardons
white wine 50ml
For the cauliflower pickle
coriander seeds 2 tbsp
mustard seeds 2 tbsp
apple cider vinegar 350ml
bay leaves 2
ground turmeric 2 tbsp
sea salt 2 tsp
caster sugar 1 heaped tbsp
cauliflower 1 whole, washed and broken into small florets
Start with the pickle. Toast off the coriander and mustard seeds in a saucepan on a high heat, then add the apple cider vinegar, bay leaves, turmeric, sea salt and caster sugar. Bring to a boil and add the cauliflower florets, stir until the brine returns to a boil, then remove from the heat. Using tongs, place the cauliflower into a sterilised jar and fill up with brine. Set aside till needed.
Preheat the oven to 180C fan/gas mark 6.
Make a gremolata. Put 25g of the parsley into a bowl. Add the grated garlic, lemon zest and the juice of one half of the cut lemon.
Fill a pot with water, add salt and bring to the boil. Add the potatoes and cook until they are soft enough to pierce with a knife (roughly 15-20 minutes). Remove the potatoes from the water and leave them to cool – .
Next, prepare the plaice. You can choose to cut the head, tail and dorsal fins off or leave as is. To cut the head off, use a sharp kitchen knife and slice directly behind the pectoral fin; applying pressure, use the palm of your hand and push down firmly to sever. To take off the tail and dorsal fins, use a pair of kitchen scissors and cut along the shape of the fish (where there is no meat). Season with salt and pepper.
Put the olive oil in a pan big enough to hold the fish and place on a high heat. When the pan is hot, add the fish, dark skin side down. Cook on a high heat for 2 minutes, then place the pan into the oven for a further 5 minutes (this might need to be longer depending on the size of the plaice).
While the fish is in the oven, place a small saucepan and 2 small frying pans on a medium heat. Melt a large tablespoon of butter in the saucepan, add the sliced garlic, spinach and beans. Stir until the spinach has wilted. Leave on a low heat. In one frying pan, add a tablespoon of butter, the mint and remaining parsley. Then add the baby potatoes and fry until crisp. Leave on a low heat.
In the last frying pan, fry the pancetta until crispy, then add all of the gremolata and half of the pickled cauliflower (use the rest in salads throughout the week). Taste and season each pan.
Take the fish pan out of the oven, place it back onto the stove and turn the fish over. Add the white wine, then 1 minute later, add 1 tablespoon of butter, a small pinch of salt and pepper, and squeeze in the juice from the last lemon half. Continually baste the top of the fish with the butter and wine for about 1½ minutes.
Serve the plaice on a heated plate with the excess pan juices poured over the top, garnish with the pancetta, gremolata and cauliflower. Serve the potatoes and greens on the side.
Native Seafood & Scran, The Yacht Club, The Marina, Portstewart Road, Coleraine