To the beach and a fishy tale

Kilbride Bay

Kilbride Bay on the Cowal Peninsula through the sea grass

On a bright blustery day last week I decided to cycle to my favourite beach. I know it well and have seen in all seasons, from sparkling summer days to dark winter ones when the north wind bites at your skin and the rain hits with such force that the sea seems to boil. It’s a couple of miles from the cottage down a back road that winds through rolling farmland. I pedalled along, avoiding the pot holes and wandering sheep, with the warm wind in my hair and a smile on my face. I left my bike by the ‘To the beach’ sign and walked the rest of the way over springy machair – the grassy plain where sand meets peat bog. Buttercups, forget-me-nots and cow pats dotted the path. A new notice told me ‘No camping. No fires. Take your dog poo away.’ Perhaps not the wild place it once was.

Sparkling water

Sparkling water and Arran on the horizon

As I approached I saw the beach through a gap in the golden sea grass. It was as wild as ever and I had it to myself. The tide was low and the sand stretched out to meet glittering water. Arran sat dark and dramatic in a misty nest on the horizon, its jagged peaks and raw ridges clear against the sky – you could almost hear it roar. Sometimes in places like this I feel like my senses aren’t sufficient; that I can’t quite look hard or well enough. I tried to focus on the view and let it settle inside me, but it was almost too big, too exquisite, to take in. Instead, I closed my eyes and let the whisper of the grass and the lazy swish swish of the lapping waves send me into a dreamy doze. I sighed and the sea sighed back.

Yesterday I went out fishing with my neighbour in his boat. We bobbed around, dropping our lines until we felt the weight hit the seabed. A seal popped up and watched us with amused eyes. He snorted and disappeared. A porpoise slowly arched by, its body as sleek and glistening as the surface of the water it carved through. Then I felt a tug on the end of my line. I quickly reeled in to find three shimmering, shiny-eyed, fat mackerel dangling from my feathers: we’d hit a shoal. I unhooked one and it shot brown sludge over me. Next time I’ll point the tail away.

Crab pot with bait

My crab pot baited with a freshly caught mackerel

After a few hours we had plenty of mackerel and a couple of big pollock, so we took off round the coast to lay our crab pots. We found the perfect spot – near rocks, a good depth and a sandy bottom. I put a small mackerel in my pot as bait and lowered it into the depths, tying the rope to an orange buoy I’d found on the beach. Later, when we went back to check it, a fat brown crab sat inside munching on the mackerel, along with a few spider crabs and starfish. As we made our way back across the bay I sat at the stern feeling like a salty sea dog. My hands were covered in translucent scales and my jeans soaked with fish shit, but we’d landed a good catch.

That night we grilled the mackerel with a squeeze of lemon juice and a grind of black pepper and ate them in a bun, the skin crisp and the oily flesh sizzling. On the advice of friends, I boiled up the crab shells and fish bones and heads, removing the gills with pliers, to make a fish stock. A savoury smell is filling the cottage as I write. I have a feeling I might have fish coming out of my ears over the next few months, so any other fishy tips or recipes would be very welcome. Bouillabaisse anyone?



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7 responses to “To the beach and a fishy tale

  1. Mick Greaney

    Forget Bouillabaisse, Eve! It really is a restaurant dish. The reason being that it takes so much fish to make it. It’s Marseille’s signature dish because the restaurateurs would go to the docks to buy the catch of the day but there would be all this other fish that no one wanted (Too small, perhaps). But you have to make a fish stock first, as you have. Then boil all that unwanted fish in that, then mash it all up and sieve it along with loads of other ingredients. That’s just your broth. Then you get the good fish and cook it and serve it in the broth. I will post a recipe, you can see for yourself.

  2. Mick Greaney

    Read and Weep

    Bouillabaisse Recipe

    3 pounds of at least 3 different kinds of fish fillets, fresh or quick frozen (thaw first)
    1/2 cup Olive oil
    1-2 pounds of Oysters, clams, or mussels
    1 cup cooked shrimp, crab, or lobster meat, or rock lobster tails
    1 cup thinly sliced onions
    4 Shallots, thinly sliced OR the white parts of 2 or 3 leeks, thinly sliced
    2 cloves garlic, crushed
    1 large tomato, chopped, or 1/2 cup canned tomatoes
    1 sweet red pepper, chopped
    4 stalks celery, thinly sliced
    2-inch slice of fennel or 1 teaspoon of fennel seed
    3 sprigs fresh thyme or 3/4 teaspoon dried thyme
    1 bay leaf
    2-3 whole cloves
    Zest of half an orange
    1/2 teaspoon powdered saffron
    2 teaspoons salt
    1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    1 cup clam juice or fish broth
    2 Tbps lemon juice
    2/3 cup white wine
    Sliced French bread

    Directions for Sauce Rouille:

    1 Tbsp hot fish stock or clam broth.v
    2 cloves peeled garlic
    1 small red hot pepper
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1/4 cup soft white bread, pulled into bits
    1/2 cup olive oil

    Put hot fish stock or clam broth into the bottom of a blender. Add garlic and red hot pepper, salt and bread. Blend until very smooth. With the blender still running, add olive oil slowly and stop the blending as soon as the oil disappears. At serving time pass Rouille in a little bowl along with the bouillabaisse. Each serving is about 1/2 a teaspoon that you stir into your soup. Use gingerly like Tabasco.

    1 Heat 1/4 cup of the olive oil in a large (6-qt) saucepan. When it is hot, add onions and shallots (or leeks). Sauté for a minute, then add crushed garlic (more or less to taste), and sweet red pepper. Add tomato, celery, and fennel. Stir the vegetables into the oil with a wooden sppon until well coated. Then add another 1/4 cup of olive oil, thyme, bay leaf, cloves and the orange zest. Cook until the onion is soft and golden but not brown.

    2 Cut fish fillets into 2-inch pieces. Add the pieces of fish and 2 cups of water to the vegetable mixture. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 10 minutes. Add oysters, clams or mussels (though these may be omitted if desired) and shrimp, crabmeat or lobster tails, cut into pieces or left whole.

    3 Add saffron, salt, pepper. Add clam juice, lemon juice, and white wine. Bring to a simmer again and cook about 5 minutes longer.

    4 At serving time taste and correct the seasoning of the broth, adding a little more salt or pepper if need be, and maybe a touch of lemon juice. Into each soup bowl place a thick slice of crusty French bread, plain or slighlty toasted. Sppon the bouillabaisse over the bread. If desired, serve with Sauce Rouille.

    Yield: Serves 6.

  3. Hilary

    There was a wee lassie called Eve
    Who upped sticks, the good life to achieve
    The first fish she slew
    Did disgorge a foul brew
    So bad it could make a girl heave

  4. Lucia

    Hi Eve, here is the recipe for baked mackerel with potatoes. I love it, especially when the fish is straight from the sea.

    (for six people)

    1/1/2lbs of new potatoes
    12 tbls live oil
    4 cloves garlic
    3oz fresh parsley
    2lbs mackerel fillets (skin on)
    salt and black pepper

    preheat oven 230c gas mark 3. wash and cut potatoes (I like the skin on) into small slices and pat dry. Into baking dish put half the olive oil, all the potatoes, half the garlic and half the parsley, salt and pepper. Mix together and spread evenly over the dish. Place in the middle of the oven and bake until half cooked (12/15 min). Remove from the oven and place fish skin side down on top to the potatoes, mix the remaining oil, garlic, parsely sprinkle with salt & pepper and pour over. Return dish to the oven. After 10 mins baste with the oil, remove potatoes from side of dish into the middle and middle potatoes to the outside of dish. Bake for a further 5 mins.


    Lucia (let me know if you like it) x

  5. emma D

    dearest Eve, mum taught me this one, the kids love it
    poach fish (any white type) in milk
    put fish in baking dish and flake it
    make cheee sause with the fishy milk
    pour over fish
    make mash potoaoes and cover fish
    cover with cheese and black pepper
    put in oven
    serve with veggies if you need to feel like you have easten something green
    yum yum

  6. Lucia

    Hi Eve,

    Mum was saying you were thinking about a smoker (for fish, not a puffer!)
    A friend of ours on the Moray Coast catches lots of fish and has smoked mackerel many times, it’s fabulous, even better that smoked salmon. You can always smoke haddock and make lovely Cullen Skink.

    Love Lucia

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