Of late, I’ve been looking a lot at chocolate, working with folks such as Connor Friesen of Co&Co Chocolates to host tastings, and running events at the Victoria Whisky Festival and recent Midlands Whisky Festival on the topic.
But I’ve also discovered the joy of whisky and seafood pairing of late. While I’d sampled a bit of this combination in the past, it was at the Whisky Exchange Show in October last year that I really tuned in. Martine Nouet – a wonderful whisky specialist who works her magic with food & whisky around the world – had matched up some lovely fresh oysters with a spritz of Laphroaig. Simple but bold…refreshing yet tantalising. The pairing was memorable – a whisky moment to savour.
So when an invite came through the post (ok, email – but it’s basically today’s version of post) proclaiming the fact Seafood Scotland was pairing up with the Scotch Malt Whisky Society and specialist seafood chef Mark Greenaway, I was thrilled.
As it turns out, the evening at London’s Boisdale of Belgravia ended up being about more than just the incredible pairings that the very talented Greenaway had concocted, such as my favourite – a crab cannelloni with smoked cauliflower custard, lemon pearls and coriander, with the SMWS 26.93 (Cottage garden beside a church), a fresh, honey and vanilla heavy 28-year old Clynelish.
It also ended up being about the characters I met – by far one of my favourite aspects of this wonderful industry.
You see, while I’d always been interested in seafood and am a keen cook, I didn’t know much about what life is like in the fishing industry. So when I got chatting to Alan Addison – a skipper who has worked on big ships fishing the north Atlantic for 28 years – I endeavoured to learn more about his story. And I couldn’t help but take a diversion from the whisky and share his experiences on here. And after Alan’s story, scroll down to find my recipe for a smoked chowder based on a Seafood Scotland recipe I was given, along with some of my favourite whisky pairings!
Alan: thanks for speaking with me. Tell me about life in the industry.
A lot of people have an idyllic view of us going out in the nice weather and the fish being there but it can often be the opposite; if there’s bad weather or a tear in your net. It’s a hard and dangerous job – in 28 years I’ve witnessed two fatalities and numerous airlifts.
Being a fisherman is a way of life rather than a career choice, especially if you reach the responsibility of being a skipper – it affects every aspect of your life not only when you are at sea. Countless birthdays, weddings, family occasions are missed (I once had a crew member who missed both his children’s actual births). We are always at home for Christmas but are back at sea on the 27 December so as to be back in for the first market on the 5 January.
So, what then do you love most about what you do?
There’s nothing better than the feeling of satisfaction when you’re going into the harbour with a boat full of fish. It’s hard to explain but it’s almost in-built in you, almost primal. When you go away fishing you step into the abyss; you don’t know if when you come back after ten days if you’re going to be able to pay the bills. It’s never guaranteed that you’re going to catch the fish but for the guys that are left in it, they are there because they enjoy the buzz of the job.
The stocks around the Scottish coastline are really healthy. Normally we would fish for 10 days and last year we were going out and filling the boat in five or six days. But the problem is the science is lagging behind and nothing was in place to say when the stocks reach this point we’ll increase quotas. Over the years, fisherman have been shown as pirates plundering the seas but it couldn’t be further from the truth. The Allowable Catch levels need to increase in line with the stocks that are harvestable as the gulf between what we are ‘allowed’ to catch and what we ‘could’ catch is massive at the moment and this single issue is forcing guys out the industry as they get fed up having to discard fish.
Also concerning in recent years is the lack of young men entering the industry as the oil sector offers better working conditions and steady income, something fishing can never offer. The depth of knowledge lost with guys leaving fishing is staggering, knowledge of grounds and fishing areas handed down from generation to generation which isn’t something that can be learnt from text books.
How do you hope to see this change?
The waters around the UK are some of the most prolific fishing grounds containing a diverse range of stocks of fish and shellfish,we need to promote the health benefits available from our protein rich additive free produce.
And finally: whisky and seafood – what are your thoughts on that?
Normally I’m not a whisky drinker and I wouldn’t normally associate whisky with a meal but I was really impressed with the pairings and to learn more.
Thanks for your time Alan!
For those of you keen to experiment more with these pairings – here’s my recipe and some ideas to get your taste buds going.
I’ve made this recipe based on one received from Seafood Scotland and Mark Greenaway. I think it goes wonderfully with Bowmore 12 year old or Talisker 57 North.
Smoked Halibut and Scallop Chowder:
1 pint of full fat milk
200ml single cream
2 fillets smoked Gigha halibut
1 large maris piper potato
1 fish stock cube
Dill & chives to garnish
1. Slice the leek and begin gently sweating in a large, heavy-bottomed pan with a small dash of oil. Leave for around 10 minutes, stirring from time to time so they don’t stick.
2. Slice the shallots into rings and add into the pan with the leeks. Continue cooking down for around 5 minutes.
3. Cube the potato and add into the pan with a dash of sea salt.
4. Prep the fish stock cube by combining with around 250ml of boiling water. Add into the pan.
5. Cook until the potatoes are just past par-boiled – around 15-20 minutes.
6. In interim, chunk the halibut into bite-sized pieces and cut the scallops in half. Once the potatoes are nearly done, add the halibut and cook for five minutes.
7. Add in the milk and cream and gently simmer to reduce liquid levels – around 5 minutes.
8. Add in the scallops and cook for a further 3-5 minutes – you don’t want the scallops to get rubbery and overcooked.
9. Chop up the dill and chives.
10. Ladle the chowder into two big bowls and top with dill and chives.
11. Enjoy with your favourite dram!
Thanks to the SMWS and Seafood Scotland for inviting me along to the pairing evening, to Alan for speaking to me and Mark Greenaway for providing the initial recipe mine was based on.