Expert advice to tip the scales in your favour when catching and cooking fish

By Sarah Norbury

Cruising along on a sunny day, you cast out a line from the stern. But if something bites, how is best to cook it? If anyone knows it’s Pete Miles, fisherman, chef and owner of Storm Fish restaurant in Poole.

As we chugged out into Poole Harbour in Pete’s little open-decked Esperance, I told him I’d only ever caught mackerel, and envied other sailors’ tales of bass and bream.

‘Now’s the time to go fishing, then,’ said Pete. ‘Lots of yachties only fish in midsummer, missing the bream that’s only around in April and May. Sea bass can be caught from mid-April until November, and mackerel from June to September.’

For boat owners who might catch their first fish this year, I asked Pete the most humane way to dispatch it quickly. ‘A whack to the top of the head with a winch handle. Mackerel are pretty much dead by the time they’re out of the water,’ he advised.

Whether you cook your fish on board or take it home for later, Pete recommends you scale and gut it while at sea.

‘It’s a messy job, so do it in a bucket of water, then you can throw the guts and scales over the side, wash the fish off in seawater and take them home nice and clean.

‘Sea bass and sea bream must be scaled. Hold the fish firm then use a blunt knife to scale from tail to head. Bass has razor-sharp dorsal fins and gills, so wear gloves or be careful, or hold the fish in a tea towel.

‘The old boys like cooking mackerel in seawater. You remove the head and guts then put the fish in a pot of cold water with the lid on. When the water comes to the boil the mackerel’s ready. Or you can eat it raw as sushi: just cut it into pieces and add lemon juice.’

Mackerel can be eaten straight away, but bass and bream are best left for supper. Pete explained that they need to go stiff, then rest. Can you eat bass and bream raw too?

‘Yes’, said Pete, ‘try ceviche: fillet the fish and cut it into little scallops, sprinkle liberally with lemon juice and leave for a couple of hours to “cook” in the citric acid.’

How to cook

‘To cook your fish, keep it simple,’ said Pete, as he brought two beautiful fish – a bass and a bream – into the Storm kitchen.

‘Best is the old Keith Floyd way. Just make three deep scores in each side, so it cooks evenly, rub in sea salt and pepper into the scores, skin and the belly, then pick any herbs you have in the garden.’

Pete chopped chives, dill, flat parsley, oregano and bulb fennel and stuffed them into the two fish. ‘Any herbs will do: thyme, bayleaf… but oregano is a must. Use dried if you don’t have fresh.’

Then he drizzled the fish with olive oil, slid them onto a baking for 10-15 minutes.
‘It’s good under the grill too’, said Pete, ‘but it cooks more evenly in the oven. You can tell it’s cooked when it’s firm to the touch and a good colour.’

(Chef’s tip: a failsafe way of telling if fish is cooked is to use a food thermometer. It’s cooked when it reaches 64°C.)

I tasted pieces of both fish with new potatoes and salad, though an even simpler serving would be with just a chunk of bread to mop up the juices – delicious.

How to catch
Determined to catch something this summer, I asked Pete for a couple of angling tips for the novice.

‘Start simple, spinning for mackerel. It tastes stunning just grilled or fried on your own boat. When you’re jigging around for mackerel you might catch a gurnard, or horse mackerel (sometimes called skad), or a garfish which are also good to eat.

‘If you want to catch bass or bream it’s best to use live bait. They like wriggling things, which is why worms work well.

‘Look for limpets on the beach, or buy sand eels from a bait shop. If you catch more mackerel than you need, fillet one and use it for bait.’

For more tips on how to catch fish see ‘Gone fishin’ in PBO August 2009. To find more archived articles browse our online copy servie or call Holly Powell on 01202 440832.