Mr Tom Brown Brings The Seaside To Your Kitchen
Earlier this summer, MR PORTER decided it would be a pleasant gesture, nay, an essential service to get a few of our friends together for some food, drink and conversation. To do this, we teamed up with Mr Tom Brown, chef-owner of Cornerstone, an award-winning fish restaurant in east London, who took us on a culinary trip to the coast (you can watch our video, above). Before cooking the five-course Friends Of MR PORTER family dinner, Mr Brown, who cut his teeth working for inimitable Cornwall fish master Mr Nathan Outlaw, talked to us about seafood, how to buy it and cook it at home.
“Being from Cornwall, I have a huge synergy with the sea,” he says. “I grew up fishing with my dad, spending lots of time at the beach, so I was always surrounded by seafood. The main ethos with the food at Cornerstone is honest, relatable, delicious, clean. It’s almost like high-end comfort food. Nothing too challenging, just things that people will love, remember, go home and crave eating again.” Read on to discover his tips on cooking seafood at home, including a recipe from his Cornerstone kitchen.
01. Buy fresh
Scallops. Photograph by Mr Tim Atkins
“The best way to bring a sense of the seaside and great seafood into your home is to buy the absolute freshest seafood you can and do as little to it as possible,” says Mr Brown. “The best signs for freshness [with fish] are beautiful bright red gills, a good healthy coating of slime, bright, full-looking eyes and the smell. People always think of fish as smelling fishy, but fresh fish should just smell of the sea.
“With scallops, always, always buy hand dived. When scallops are in the water, they swim and snap along, so when they’re hand dived they’re just pulled out. When they’re dredged, the bottom of the ocean is completely raked up, so it’s terrible for the ecosystem, but also the scallops are packed full of mud and grit, so not a very nice or fresh product at the end.
“Everyone has had oysters in Whitstable Bay. They’ve had a fresh crab sandwich by the seaside or had a beautiful roast lobster in a beachside restaurant. I think the food memory and connection with that fresh seafood, just cooked in a very simple way, is always going to be a winner.”
02. Be sustainable
“Avoid seafood that has come from bad-practice farming. Those supermarket sea bass fillets from Europe are never going to be top quality. Farmed salmon is not great either.
“Don’t buy anything out of season because you know it’s going to have travelled a long way and, most importantly, it’s not going to be fresh. Check eattheseasons.co.uk and cornwallgoodseafoodguide.org.uk to see what’s in season. Buy from small, independent suppliers and fishmongers and try to buy from day boats. Talk to your fishmonger. With day boats, they go in and out of port in the same day, so environmentally they’re a lot better and the fish is better quality.
“There are not many fish that are more sustainable than grey mullet. This time of year is brilliant for British crab. We buy ours from Dorset. The rule with crab is just to buy it from as close to you as you possibly can. I find this is a great time of year for oysters, too. We get ours from Carlingford in Ireland.”
03. Keep it simple
“If you’re after simplicity, cooking fish on the bone is a lot more forgiving. Something such as a whole, baked lemon sole or plaice is quite difficult to mess up and you don’t need to do much to the fish when cooking it. Having the bones inside means it’s not going to dry out – fat in the bones melts and adds moisture. If you want to impress your friends a bit more, try the hake recipe, below. This is a home-cooking version of a dish on the Cornerstone menu.”
04. How to buy hake
“With hake, like any white fish, you want a nice sort of opaque aesthetic to the fish. It shouldn’t look milky or creamy. It should look nice and fresh and feel firm. If you can’t get hake, cod would be great, pollock as well, even something such as monkfish would be brilliant.”
Hake kiev with hazelnuts
Hake kiev with hazelnuts. Photograph by Mr Tim Atkins
“This, for me, is the embodiment of comfort food. Hake has this beautiful texture that lends itself well to being stuffed, so we make a really nice, rich hazelnut butter, stuff that inside the hake, wrap it and then cover it in panko breadcrumbs so, once it’s fried, it’s nice and crispy.”
100g toasted hazelnuts
1 clove garlic, finely crushed
200g salted butter
1 tsp chopped chives
1 tsp chopped chervil
1 tsp chopped parsley
4 x 120g portions hake fillet, skinned and pinboned
100g plain flour
1 egg, beaten
100g panko breadcrumbs
To make the hazelnut butter, mix the hazelnuts, garlic and butter together in a food processor until evenly incorporated, but not too smooth. Add the herbs, mix through and set aside.
Slice along the side of the hake portions three-quarters of the way through horizontally to butterfly them and open out. Spoon or pipe in some of the butter and fold the fish back over to seal it all in. Wrap tightly in cling film, then leave to set in the fridge for at least an hour, overnight is fine.
When set, unwrap the fish portions from the cling film and run them through the flour, then the beaten egg, then the panko breadcrumbs, then back into the egg, then panko again to “double breadcrumb” them (this will ensure the butter doesn’t leak out).
Deep fry in oil (180°C if you have a thermometer) in a deep-sided pan for 2-3 minutes until golden brown and crispy. Place on a baking tray in an oven preheated to 200°C for 3-4 minutes until hot through. Serve.