Moderate to Good

The best cure for being seasick is actually to be sick. Ed knows this is true because after throwing up his spiced lamb pasty over the side of the boat he felt a lot better.

Our mate, the chef Rob Owen Brown, had invited us for a day of sea fishing on a chartered boat. He promised that on our return he would cook some of the catch for us to eat in his new pub and restaurant, The Hinchliffe Arms, which sits in woodland, just ten minutes from the HebTroCo office and warehouse.

Setting out from Rhyl Harbour in North Wales into the Irish Sea we were wistfully staring at the horizon. The romance of the sea is strong to us British islanders. This year the BBC Shipping Forecast celebrates 150 years of “Dogger, Fisher, German Bight” and who amongst us has not listened, ignorant to the meaning of the words, our imaginations carried away with the desire for a Boy’s Own adventure on the water? Who didn’t dream of being a pirate as a boy?

We have planted trees, fathered children and used power tools, but had never caught a fish. Our boat for the day was the Merlin, piloted by a tanned skipper with a salty grin and a nose that looked like it had seen many a bar room brawl. He talked without stopping for four hours, teaching us how use the rods and when to use feathered lures or baited lines. All the while he was making brews and cracking jokes. On pain of death he minded us not to chip the paintwork on his hull with the lead weights on our fishing lines. Like a radio in the background he told continuous saucy tales of trips ashore and regaled us with mad and bad characters that he has known on boats and rigs.

If you’re going to eat fish then it’s a good idea to know something about how the food makes its way from the sea to your plate. We’re getting more and more disconnected from our food. Land is managed and earth dug but all we see is beautiful clean carrots tastefully wrapped in plastic on the supermarket shelf. Most of the fish we see is already in batter or filleted and refrigerated. Well the reality is that those fish are swimming around eating each other in the sea until we come along to eat them ourselves. On our day out on the boat we were going to have to find them, catch them, gut them, clean them and take them home to eat. If you eat at Rob’s pub you will find seasonal food on the menu. Everything that can be used is. As he says if you are going to kill something you are morally obliged to eat all of it. We set out to catch food to take it home to eat.

After motoring out of the harbour for half an hour the engine was cut. We drifted in the gentle swell of the incoming tide alongside a pair of dolphins, also out for a day of fishing. As soon as the lines were cast we were pulling in mackerel and receiving instruction on how not to put the hooks through our own fingers or into each others eyes. The biggest fish was selected, then gutted and expertly filleted by Alex, another chef from Rob’s restaurant. A twist on the pepper grinder, a pinch of salt and a splash of lime juice finished the job and we were eating delicious Welsh sushi. It doesn’t come fresher than that.

Rob had brought a picnic and after a taste of mackerel we were soon eating his own made spiced lamb pasties, ham and mustard sandwiches and pork pies. As the boat started to rise and fall and we headed into deeper waters the chatter on the boat died down. It’s uncertain if everyone felt queasy but they all went quiet. Some recovered quickly and everyone carried on fishing. Ed felt quite unwell and despite staring at the still horizon, wearing acupressure wrist bands and swallowing travel sickness pills he was soon leaning over the side. The humiliation of hurling half eaten pasty into the sea was soon rewarded with a feeling of wellbeing. The act of vomiting also coincided with us starting to pull in fish after a quiet spell of the lines being still. It was probably more to do with the turning of the tide and the fish starting to be on the move again after the stillness of high tide. He will probably never make a sailor and he is unlikely now to have an anchor tattoo, but Ed loved his day at sea.

As well as mackerel we were now also pulling in fish from the bottom of the sea. Gurnard are a pale, prehistoric looking fish that use their spiny fins to find crab, fish and shrimp that live in the sediment. Ugly they may be, but delicious they taste as we were to discover the following day when Rob cooked us a pair with new potatoes, prosciutto ham and broad beans. It’s satisfying to eat what you have caught yourself, especially when you are lucky enough to have a top chef who knows how to make the best of the catch. We also ate simply roasted mackerel drizzled with olive oil and samphire. On the boat we also caught dabs, a flat fish that favours the sandy sea bed, and dogfish a small sized member of the shark family. Anything that was too small was put back in the sea to swim away, everything else was going home for the pot.


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