To mark the first day of November, a bit of a ‘middle-child’ in the family of months that falls between creepy Halloween and festive Christmas, I thought that it was finally time to post about my recollection of #MuscadetMagic.
It involved early morning wake-up calls, (LOTS of) fish, (almost) free-flowing wine, and a bit of drama thrown in for good measure, so, read on…
My pick-up time was scheduled at 5.15am on a Saturday, the alarm set to wake me up a good hour before, giving me enough time to ‘get into gear’.
What does one even wear to a fish market?
“Haiyo, so ‘AI-SUI’ (vain)”, I imagine my dad’s voice everytime he had to wait for me to get dressed.
“Who is going to look at you?”, my mum would probably add on.
Parents, they will never understand.
We’re not back in Malaysia, so I assumed that a pair of shorts and flip flops would not be very appropriate for the British climate – the left hemisphere of my brain was thankfully functioning even at such a ghastly hour of the morning. I opted for my mulberry coloured trousers (or ‘aubergine’, according to DB) and new pair of matching loafers that left the top area of my feet exposed to the cold air, and a stark white jumper (a perfect canvas to get splattered with blood and fish guts)…
Current brain function: 50%.
My chariot awaited me outside in the dark, 15 minutes before schedule, in the form of a modern day grey Prius – I checked the number plate just to be sure it wasn’t a kidnap vehicle in disguise. Or maybe this event was actually all a hoax and we were all to be deviously smuggled away to the underground world…
Or perhaps Piggy’s Cafe was actually an illegal brothel run by a deranged, heartbroken Miss Piggy who would then auction us off to the highest bidder…
“We will now go and pick up your friends”, the driver stated in a neutral tone. I was not sure who these ‘friends’ that he was referring to were, but I automatically said “Okay” in my sleep-deprived state, more focused on trying to get some shut-eye time whilst he drove on.
Moments later at the second pick-up point, equally groggy-eyed Cassie joined me at the back, and despite being ‘ahead of the game’, our driver sped us through the streets of London, passing by groups of drunken revelers who looked like they had a day (or two) of hangovers awaiting them.
Judging by the number of cars and people streaming out of the market with hands full of black bin bags (containing fish or some sort of exotic crustacean, I’m assuming), we were clearly late by fish shopping standards. We walked into the famed Piggy’s Cafe which was already buzzing with early risers, and greeted by Mr Blyde, smartly-clad as usual in his ‘hashtag’ trousers and a pink silk scarf around his neck – to ‘ward off the chill in the air’, I believe.
I gracefully accepted the hot mug of tea, followed by another of coffee – not quite your morning Nespresso but good enough for a much needed caffeine kick.
I have some rather insatiable (food) cravings in the mornings, and although not my typical choice of breakfast, I joined in to have the traditional breakfast butty with bacon and scallops. I shared my seat with Marie who was chair-less, half my derriere suspended in mid-air whilst I tried not to get in the way of the frustrated waitress – a hot shower in the morning is bliss, a hot shower of coffee, maybe not so much.
“Your partner is drunk somewhere in the London” – I peered (slightly) worryingly around the cafe and breathed a sigh of relief as he walked through the entrance in his hooded khaki parka.
We were then led up the stairs where we met CJ Jackson, CEO of Billingsgate Seafood School and author of Leith’s Fish Bible, who gave us a brief history of the place and some seafood shopping tips before we went off in our pairs, £25 of ‘pocket money’ safely sealed within envelopes. Everyone else seemed dash off immediately, walking in various directions with purpose. I looked at my partner Liam, with his little notepad.
“Do you know what we’re going to get?”, I asked.
“Some smoked fish, apparently”, he replied, sounding just as clueless as I was.
We did a little wander round the market with our non-existent shopping list, subconsciously aware of the cameraman, whom we were convinced had been multiply-cloned and situated at every corner, filming our market escapade.
“Everyone else already has bags”
“They’re all panic-buying, we’ve got it all under control”
After some impromptu google searches on my iPhone, whilst narrowly avoiding getting our feet run over by trolleys laden with frozen fish, we stumbled upon a box of decent-sized whole fish.
“What type of fish are these?”, Liam asked.
“Jurels”, the man replied.
“And how would you cook it?”
The silence that followed did not seem very encouraging, but after some discreet whispering in the back, we managed to bag ourselves our first purchase of the day.
“It’s like buying our FIRST HOUSE!”, I squealed with excitement – clearly someone who needs to get out a bit more…
We grabbed a box of crab meat to make a stuffing for our fish, before bagging ourselves a single whole squid (instead of a whole box!), where Liam somehow managed to convince the guy with his ‘poor schoolboy’ story – I know who to bring along shopping in future.
With some cash left to spare, we decided to splurge on a bag of prawns, leaving us with 40 cents – dashing Liam’s hopes of grabbing a drink in the pub.
Proudly brandishing our bundles of joy, we made our way back upstairs, where we presented our ‘catch of the day’.
It was then time to put our knife and fish-gutting skills to the test. After watching Liam brutally behead one of our innocent crustaceans, we decided that it would be best to leave my nimbler fingers to shell the prawns whilst his manly hands took on the squid and jurels.
“It looks like your prawn is having a period”, as I stared at his fingers smothered in red shrimp juices.
Those fine hands were definitely made for greater things, like getting intimate with our ink-covered squid.
Not too shabby, ay?
Running on a fixed schedule, we rinsed our hands clean (cold followed by warm water – very important) before hopping into our pre-booked taxis to be whisked off again, this time to the Central Street Cookery School.
Donning our kitchen aprons with a glass of wine in hand, we grabbed our space at an empty station. When we were finally given the green light, we all huddled around the table of ingredients and grabbed any basic cooking essentials that we would require. Salt, pepper, lemons, chilli, ginger, and…an apple. Part of Liam’s ingenious plan and I assumed that he knew what he was doing – he had after all only had a couple of glasses of wine so far.
With our chopping boards, pans and cooking utensils all ready and laid out on the counter, we stood looking at each other amid the chaos unfolding around us.
“I think we need more wine”, Liam pointed out, to which I agreed without hesitance.
‘More wine’ was clearly the key to success at such events.
Whilst trying to figure out how to work the buttons and knobs, I may have accidentally switched off Rosie’s hob. An UNINTENTIONAL act of sabotage I swear…
Technology can be so complicated.
Halfway through the allocated cooking time, we decided that it was probably time to ‘get in the zone’ and jump into action. Somewhere in between Liam’s rummaging quest through the kitchen, he also discovered a bottle of cognac – I kept watch from the corner of my eye and made sure that it was going into the food and not into his mouth.
Despite making us both sound like a couple of amateurs in the kitchen (which I probably still am), we did produce a decent and edible, if not slightly battered seafood dish.
Would it pair well with Muscadet? Well we were soon to find out…
Having plated our two dishes just before the 50 minute allocated time ended, we waited patiently at the end of the room for our turn.
Whilst snapping some last minute photos, Liam had a brilliant idea to use the floor as a ‘background’, and in his excitement, well, I think you can guess what happened next…
Our hopes of impressing Mr Blyde, wine connoisseur, and Jon Massey of The Wharf newspaper, now lay on Loki II, the last survivor. We watched with held breaths as their eyes scrutinized our dish which was slightly too large for the plate, and as they took a bite of the crab and apple stuffing, probably spiked with way too much cognac. Their facial expressions didn’t give much away, but the fact that they didn’t spit anything out was good enough.
The worst was over, and once the judging session had ended, we were finally left to enjoy the fruits of our labour.
We finished off with a little wine tasting session, where I narrowly avoided dribbling all over myself as I swirled and sucked to aerate the wine in my mouth – probably one of the rare occasions where making bubbling and sucking noises is perfectly acceptable at the table.
We began with a floral Côtes de Grandlieu – Guérin 2014 from brothers, Luc and Jérome Choblet (Waitrose, £7.99), followed by the lemony La Nantaise Réserve 2014 (Laithwaites, £9.99). Next was Les Gras Moutons 2013 from Domaine de la Haute Févrie, sourced from Berry Bros & Rudd (£11.95), the UK’s oldest (1698) wine and spirits merchant.
And finally the last and, probably my favourite (not because it was the priciest), was Le Pallet 2010 – Les Dix du Pallet (£14.99), a rare and high quality example of a mature, partially oak fermented Muscadet.
And yes the glasses were actually filled as opposed to what you saw in the photo above…
For those of you who prefer more of a visual summary of the day, check out my #outofthescrapbook doodle, and the YouTube clip below…
A thoroughly enjoyable challenge that was definitely worth sacrificing my beauty sleep over – who knows what other challenges await us?
Until then, I shall be sharpening up my knife skills and drinking more wine…for research purposes.
Til we meet again, fellow Muscadet Musketeers.
The Cheekster, signing out x
Ps: Dear Liam, somewhere in the stars it says that a bottle of wine is due to be uncorked… 😉