A Devon dining experience at Salcombe: Catch it, cook it, eat it
PUBLISHED: 08:37 11 August 2014 | UPDATED: 08:37 11 August 2014
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There's no better way to connect someone to the food on their plate than getting them to catch it themselves. We sent hungry reporter LIZ MILLER out to sea on a boat to find her own lunch
What better way to work up an appetite on a glorious sunny day in South Devon than to set sail on a fishing boat, rod at the ready, to catch your own lunch. Newly opened Salcombe Harbour Hotel is offering guests a chance to do just that with a new adventure: Catch it, Cook it, Eat it.
This was a perfect chance to channel my inner Bear Grylls and go hunter-gathering out at sea on a local fishing boat. But rather than gutting my catch over a campfire, an award-winning chef would be preparing the fish, and serving it up in five-star surroundings at the Jetty Restaurant, overlooking the estuary.
The idea was born out of Harbour Hotel’s chef/patron Alex Aitken’s love of getting fresh fish from the sea to the plate as quickly as possible. Aitken, a former trawlerman and self-taught chef, has been running similar trips at a sister Harbour hotel, in Christchurch, Dorset, for the past two years with great success and has now launched “Catch it” in Devon.
“Catch it, Cook it, Eat it started two years ago as a reward for staff at the jetty restaurant because we haven’t got a chef’s table so I took them all out on a mackerel fishing trip,” explains Alex. “We cooked our catch and it was so popular we started offering the experience to guests. Now we run a trip at least once a week in the season.”
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Our fishing party arrived at the Whitestrand Pontoon in Salcombe in perfect weather conditions, clear and calm, dry and sunny, and skipper Chris Puncher welcomed us onto the boat along with Alex, who was supervising the trip. The boat motored up the estuary, past the recently refurbished Harbour Hotel, and beaches of East Portlemouth and out to sea.
Using his radar device Chris guided the boat to a depth of around 150 metres where shoals of fish had been spotted and we moored for the first cast off. Alex showed us how to drop the lines, which had four hooks and a weight at the end, and then gently flick the rod up and down to attract the fish.
We all cast off and waited, moving our rods in hope. There were no nibbles at this spot so Chris told us to reel in and he motored to another area. We dropped lines again and, bingo, this time one of our crew, Dan, landed a whiting. First catch in the basket!
The boat motored around the shoreline and we all kept fishing, while Alex entertained us with cooking anecdotes. With time passing, and appetites getting sharper, Chris sailed us back to Salcombe for a late lunch.
Arriving back at the hotel’s luxurious crustacean bar Alex donned his chef’s whites, fired up the stoves and began to cook up a series of delicious fishy dishes. First up was our catch. He gutted and scaled it, then chopping the whiting and herring into small chunks to deep fry in batter and serve as an appetiser. Less than an hour out of the water it tasted sensational.
“I grew up with a love of fishing which has stayed with me,” says Alex. “You never know what you are going to get and it’s great to be able to vary the menu according to the catch.”
Our next dish was seafood paella with chorizo and saffron, then Alex created one of his signature dishes (his recipe is opposite) Singapore Spider Crab Claw with a rich spicy broth served in the shell.
The final delicious dish was a brand new creation - Spider Crab Macaroni Cheese, baked in the shell in a creamy sauce. Delicious!
Catch it, Cook it, Eat it break
The newly refurbished Salcombe Harbour Hotel & Spa is offering Devon Life readers a two night stay with a £25 dinner allowance per person each night and full English breakfast in the morning. Take a fishing trip with Alex Aitken who will cook your catch. There is an option to visit the spa instead with £25 towards a luxury treatment as well as full use of the spa during your stay.
From £599 per couple per stay. To enquire about dates and book your place, please call the reservation team on 01548 844444 quoting “Catch it, Cook it, Eat it!” A day trip for non-guests costs £65 per person. www.salcombe-harbour-hotel.co.uk
Alex Aitken’s Singapore Crab Claws
Crab is Singapore’s unofficial “national dish”. Like the country itself, this dish had humble beginnings. It was in the 1950s when a great cook, Madame Cher Yam Tian, created a recipe for preparing fresh-from-the- sea crabs. She and her husband, Mr Lim Choon Ngee, set up a food stall selling sea crabs on the seashore, every day from dusk till the early hours, by the light of a kerosene lamp. I enjoyed 3 years living in Singapore and used to eat at these “Macan” stalls every day, so here’s my recipe.
3-4 large crab claws,
2 medium onions, chopped
2 1/2 cm / 1” piece fresh ginger, grated
2-3 small chillies, seeds removed finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 stalk lemon grass (tender inner leaves), chopped
1 tsp shrimp paste (optional)
3 spring onions, chopped
2 tsp cornflower
3 tbsp oil
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp tomato paste or ketchup
1. Take the crab claws and if raw cook them in a large pot of boiling water for about four minutes. Drain and cool slightly.
2. Crack the claws with a mallet or pestle.
3. Mix the cornstarch into a little cold water.
4. Heat the oil in a wok or large skillet and stir fry the onion, ginger, garlic, lemon grass, shrimp paste (if using) and two-thirds of the chillies for two minutes. Add the crab claws and half a cup of water, reduce the heat and cook three to four minutes longer. Transfer the crab to a plate.
5. Add the sugar and tomato paste or ketchup to the wok and combine well. Add the cornstarch solution and continue stirring until the mixture thickens. Return the crab to the wok, stirring until well-coated with the sauce.
6. Place on a serving platter and garnish with the green onions and remaining chillies. Serve hot.