Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Good things to eat [Volume 10]: A Cornwall special

I didn't get round to visiting Cornwall until I'd passed thirty. I really shouldn't have left it so long.

Last summer I was on the north coast, in and around Newquay. Thereabouts the coastline is expansive; great sandy beaches, craggy cliffs, crashing waves and dunes. I loved it.


This year I was on the south coast, in and around the Fal estuary. Only 20 miles or so away, but completely different. Here everything is estuarine, muddy creeks snaking between low hills and little boats put-putting between tiny, secluded pebbly beaches. Sailing country, not surfing. Different but equally wonderful.

That's my ode to Cornwall done. You really should go. Now what about the food? If I could give you one piece of advice about eating in this part of the world, it's this: eat whatever you can drag alive from the sea.

The highlight, in both eating and 'cooking an agressive live creature for tea' terms was the crab. I'll own up, we didn't catch these ourselves, they were bought from a fisherman straight from his boat. Two rather large and not very happy spider crabs to be precise.


They were dormant while sat in the bucket (I think the fisherman said to keep them upside down to stop them getting frisky) but livened up no end as soon as they were removed.


It's only at this point you realise why they're called spider crabs, look at the length of those legs!


After a bit of a wrestle the crabs lost and were duly dispatched. They were pretty big so needed around half an hour on a rolling boil to cook through, and them came the tricky bit. Extracting all the juicy morsels of flesh from the body, claws and all of those legs was time consuming but very much worth it. A nutcracker came in handy.

I can't think of any imaginative words to describe their flavour, it was just fresh, sweet, crabby and utterly delicious. We did nothing more with it than eat it scooped up in a lettuce leaf or on butttered brown bread. Divine. It was surprisingly plentiful too, the pair giving up enough meat for eight people.


Out of the same estuary came tiny little shrimps, like the ones that usually end up potted. We did catch these, thought I can't claim the credit (that goes to AS's Aunty). They were almost as lovely as the crab, and in the same sort of way, just beautifully sweet and fresh. They're so tiny that removing the shells is nigh on impossible, but pulling off the heads and just crunching away at the rest worked just fine. I also finally developed a liking for the Chinese habit of sucking the goo out of the heads. Yum.

Still on the seafood front we ate some fat fillets of ling one evening. I'd not eaten this fish before but I'd definitely look out for it again. Before cooking it looked similar to a large cod loin, and the taste wasn't a million miles away either, though I thought it was a little more delicate texture and flavour-wise. Simply baked with lemon and herbs it was very enjoyable.


After an afternoon stroll into St Mawes I couldn't resist having crab again, this time a sandwich in the pub. It wasn't bad, but our crab won by a mile. The meat was fresh and sweet, but there wasn't a great deal of it for the price (£9.50) and it hadn't been picked very carefully (I counted three pieces of shell).

We didn't survive on seafood alone, and it's at this point I should thank my girlfriend's (that's AS in case you were wondering) relatives for their hospitality, and for their brilliant cooking. Except for the pub sandwich and my dubious contribution in manhandling a crab everything in this post is their work. Thanks everyone!

Puddings were no afterthought. For three evenings in a row dessert was a celebration of British fruit. For someone who loves our native fruits as much as I do, this was a very good thing. There was a dream of a brioche summer pudding, resplendent and crimson, and a mouth-puckeringly tart gooseberry crumble.


And then there was this, a rhubarb meringue roulade. Think rhubarb fool crossed with pavlova. Add extra cream, then eat far too much of it far too quickly on account of its deliciousness.

I've talked about lunch and tea, but not breakfast. There was more fruit, with yoghurt and granola, but you don't want to hear about that, you want breakfast meat.


Ta da! The best way to cook an enormous fry-up for loads of people is outdoors, in a huge paella pan. Eggs were squeezed in the gaps and the whole lot served from the pan as a centrepiece to the table. 

So there you have it. I can't think of many finer days than one that includes both black pudding and summer pudding, sunshine, crabmeat, and the sea. Go to Cornwall.

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