episode 78 | show notes & advice
In this week’s episode Sarah chats to the fabulous fish chef, restauranteur, and food writer Mitch Tonks. Having founded the first FishWorks back in 1995, Mitch went on to launch the specialist seafood restaurant, The Seahorse in Dartmouth and subsequently, Rockfish. Initially one restaurant offering affordable, good quality fish and seafood, Rockfish has now grown into a brand spanning nine coastal restaurants, an online fishmonger service, as well as their own recipe book (and Mitch’s sixth cookbook), Rockfish - The Cookbook, which launched in 2021. In this podcast Mitch shares some of his favourite fish recipes including different ways of using herbs as an accompaniment. In Mitch’s words, the best way to cook fish is to “keep it simple with fresh, zingy herbs”.
In this episode, discover…
- Mitch’s background and the origins of FishWorks, The Seahorse and Rockfish
- Sarah’s tip for cooking fish easily (a technique taught to her by Mitch)
- Mitch’s favourite way to cook fish really simply
- How to use soft and hard herbs with fish, butters, sauces and in making your own vinegar
- The Great British tinned fish
- Herbs to grow now
- Some great fish recipes with homegrown herbs
Episode 78 advice sheet
Growing up in Weston-super-Mare, Mitch was always out fishing as a boy. Years later he ended up with a career in accountancy, but always maintained his interest in fish. It was Henrietta Green’s book in 1995, “Food Lovers’ Guide to Britain” and reading about all the incredible producers in this country, that made him want to be a part of it.
FishWorks the fishmonger, then restaurant
The motivation to open his own fishmongers came from what Mitch felt was missing. “Fishmonger shops were always pretty smelly places, with a guy in a white jacket and just some white fish - very different from the fishmongers I remembered as a boy and ones that I’d seen in Europe.” So, Mitch decided to open his own fishmongers in the centre of Bath selling whole tunas, local seafood and fresh, wild salmon. He realised that many people weren’t sure what to do with seafood, so he taught himself to cook using simple recipes, and within a couple of years, had added a restaurant above the shop. He discovered fish didn’t need to be fancy; red mullet with a piece of rosemary could be the most magnificent experience. So magnificent, that FishWorks then grew to 13 restaurants in London.
From FishWorks to The Seahorse
When FishWorks became a public company, Mitch found he was spending more time with investors than doing what he loved, so he left and eventually the company was sold. Mitch’s dream of opening a wonderful seafood restaurant and cooking over an open fire down by the sea, soon became a reality when he opened The Seahorse in Dartmouth with a great friend of his, Matt Dawson – also one of the first chefs employed in FishWorks. This high-end seafood restaurant now has a former FishWorks apprentice, Jake, as Chef Director, Mitch’s son as Head Chef and his son’s partner as the General Manager, so remains very much a family business.
Mitch still had a hankering to introduce great fish to the British public. With The Seahorse being very much top-end, he felt there was nothing mainstream in casual dining, and so Rockfish was born. Initially focusing on fried fish, big grills were eventually added and over the years more restaurants set up. They now have nine restaurants all over the south coast – incidentally, all overlooking the water.
Rockfish – the online fishmonger
“I never lost my love of wanting people to get access to really great fish and seafood” says Mitch, which is why Rockfish then added its online fishmonger – to be able to offer great seafood at home. The fish is bought off the boat, put online and sold direct to the customer in recycled packaging and there are lots of recipes online. Mitch felt FishWorks became more focused on making money, while Rockfish has always been about leaving a legacy by “putting restaurants in our small coastal communities, and providing fish to your door that’s fresher than anything you could have bought in the supermarket.”
Mitch’s simple technique when cooking fish
Sarah recalls Mitch attending cooking courses at Perch Hill and teaching her a certain technique now completely ingrained in how she cooks. The key is to get the pan (or griddle) really hot before adding your fish.
· First choose a really beautiful piece of fish to cook with
· Heat your pan (ideally a heavy frying pan) or griddle, only a very small amount of oil / fat is required
· Check the pan’s heat by holding the hand safely over it for a count of 10. If it’s uncomfortable at 10, the pan is hot enough for the fish.
· Put the fish into the pan and just brown it on top
· *If you heat the pan and the fish together, the fish (skin) sticks to the pan, whereas if you put a very cold fish onto a searing hot pan – they jump apart and the fish remains intact.
· After browning the fish on top, put it straight into a pre-heated oven (Mitch uses pans with metal handles putting the whole pan in the oven).
Mitch’s favourite way to cook fish
· In a bag, so a piece of foil and parchment paper one on top of the other
· Pop the fish into the bag with fresh herbs, tomatoes, wine and a splash of vinegar and then straight in the oven for 8 – 10 minutes at maximum heat
· Remember, fish likes maximum heat, it doesn’t like to be poached on a low or medium heat
Herbs with fish
While Mitch is not yet into growing his own herbs, he loves using soft herbs for sauces and dressing, and the harder herbs when grilling fish. He tries to use as many herbs as he can, including combining herbs. He loves adding fresh parsley to a salsa verde, or coriander for that incredible citrus zing.
Soft herbs: Tarragon, Mint, Dill and Basil | Harder herbs: Oregano, Savory and Thyme
Mitch’s recommended herb combinations: Basil and Mint | Dill and Mint
Mitch’s Savory Vinegar
Stuff Winter savory branches into bottles of homemade vinegar to then spoon over grilled fish along with some olive oil. This will add a wonderful woody fragrance to your dishes.
Great British tinned fish
Mitch had always wanted to can British seafood. During lockdown, unable to find a canner in the UK, he found a canning factory in Spain. Run by women, the seafood is all prepared and canned by hand. Rockfish are now selling tinned Sardines, Mussels from Lyme Bay and Brixham Bay Mackerel and Cuttlefish.
Sarah’s tips on growing herbs
End of July into August is a good time to start thinking about your winter herbs. Winter savory is totally hardy, although needs a sheltered-ish spot, but then, just as you can with Rosemary, go on picking it through the winter.
· Flatleaf parsley is one of the easiest herbs to grow.
· Variety: ‘Gigante di Napoli’ came out top in our trials with larger leaves and better flavour than most
· Sowing: Sown now, you’ll be picking until next April or even May. Individually sow seeds into a window box or a pot on the doorstep.
· Growing tip: Parsley has a germinator inhibitor in the seedcoat which slows down the germination, so leave it soaking overnight (i.e in an egg cup). Dry it off in the morning on kitchen paper and leave it to dry properly as it will be easier to sow.
· Harvesting: Will germinate to be of pickable size in about 6 weeks. You can go on picking right the way through winter, as it’s completely hardy.
· Variety: Go for ‘Sweet Genovese’ – for its warm, aromatic taste
· Sowing: Sow it now. Basil hates cold nights, and we still have around 6 weeks of decent weather into the night. It’s quick to germinate so really worth it.
· Conditions: If you’re happy to have supper in your garden, basil is happy to be out in your garden
· Watering: Never send basil to bed wet, because it tends to get mould, so water well in the morning not evening
· Care: Think of it like giving it a haircut. Hold a stem, always cut above a pair of leaves and remove the leader to get the axillary buds growing below it.
Whole Roasted Sea Bass / Fillet of Sea Bass, with Salsa Primavera
This is neither a sauce or a salad but a glorious mix of everything thing that is the taste of Spring. It’s the mixture of crunchy textures and sweet fragrant flavours lifted with vinegar and held together by peppery olive oil that makes it so good. Its great with any piece of grilled fish but I particularly like sea bass for its juicy flesh and crisp skin.
2 whole sea bass called and gutted
4 violet artichokes - cook your own or use a good jarred one in oil
Bunch of spring onions cut on the bias
Handful mangetout cut thinly on the bias
½ cucumber, peeled and deseeded and sliced thinly
Green peppers, peeled and deseeded - chopped finely
2 tablespoons fresh peas
2 tablespoons fresh small brand beans, blanched and skins removed
Tablespoon chopped capers
Finely sliced green olives
Tablespoon chopped mixed herbs, tarragon, mint, parsley and chives
Squeeze lemon juice
Agro dolce or moscate vinegar
Salt and pepper
First make the Salsa by preparing the ingredients as above and mix loosely with olive oil, balance the flavour with salt, lemon and the sweet vinegar and set aside. Quarter the artichokes and fold them in too. Slash the skin of the sea bass, rub with salt and olive oil and roast in the oven for 20 minutes with the temperature set to 200.
Place a spoonful of the salsa and artichokes on the plate and the fish alongside,
finish with a little olive oil, salt and some lemon juice.
Monkfish over the fire with Savory, Chilli and Anchovy
You Will need
1 monkfish tail, skinned and trimmed 800g
Small bunch fresh Savory
3 small dried birds eye chillis
100ml Extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove peeled and grated
Splash red wine vinegar
Small handful fine breadcrumbs
First prepare the monkfish, with the tail facing you cut down one side of the bone about 4/5 of the way into the flesh as if you were filleting but leave it attached. Turn the fish over so the tail is facing away from you and do the same with the other side, it should now be butterflied with the fillets still attached. Make several incisions in the flesh and stuff a sprig of savoury in each, do about 4 or five on each fillet. Sprinkle with salt, rub with a little olive oil and lastly sprinkle lightly with breadcrumbs. Pre heat the oven to 200 and roast the fish on a try for 12 - 15 minutes, leave to rest. Make a dressing by warming the remaining olive oil and adding the remaining sprigs of savoury, leave them to infuse, then add the garlic, crumble in the chilli, then grate in the zest of the lemon then squeeze in the juice, season with salt then use as a dressing for the fish. Serve with a light salad or roasted courgettes and peppers.
Cured Red Mullet with Fennel, Fresh Basil, Tomatoes and Anchovies
You will need
1 red mullet weighing 500g filleted skinned and pin-boned
A good bunch basil
8 mint leaves
Small handful pumpkin seeds
Juice of a lemon
1 small dried chilli
4 salted anchovy fillets
Handful of coarse sourdough breadcrumbs
1 small clove garlic
2 Merinda tomatoes
First dice the red mullet into 10mm pieces. Make a pesto by blending the basil ( save a few small leaves for garnish),the mint the pumpkin seeds, salt and olive oil. Make the pangratotto by heating olive oil in a frying pan then add the anchovies and chilli and grate in the garlic, add the breadcrumb and cook gently until they crisp making sure you melt the anchovy into them as you go. Slice the tomatoes and lay onto a plate in small rings. Mix the fish with the pesto, a few pumpkin seed to season, then add lemon and heap onto the tomatoes, sprinkle with the breadcrumbs and garnish with a few basil leaves.
Simple tinned fish with herbs recipe
- Drain the sardines (or alternative tinned fish) and break them up
- Toss sardines (or alternative fish) with red onion and your favourite fresh herbs
- Put the sardines, red onion and herby mix on a lovely piece of sourdough
- flavour to a mayonnaise to go with it
Sarah’s very simple kedgeree recipe
Tip: Use the Rockfish kedgeree butter which has all the spices already in it.
For the fish, I use either smoked pollack or smoked haddock – whatever there is plenty of so it’s a sustainable kedgeree dish.