** Sadly now closed **
There can be few people more qualified to run a fishmonger than Innis Spencer; having spent 30 years working in fish markets around the country, including the famous London markets and a further 10 years fishing and diving from his own commercial boat, he set up the FishBox with wife Carol. Initially solely a wholesale business, 3 years ago they opened their shop on the Granby Industrial Estate, Weymouth, to cater for the retail market.
The FishBox came highly recommended as one of the best places in the area to buy truly fresh fish and I was not disappointed. The display was well iced, the gills of the fish red, scales shiny and the eyes bright – all signs of good fresh fish. All fish are displayed whole but can be prepared to your liking at no extra cost. On this occasion the range on offer included haddock, cod, hake, gurnard and silver mullet (more usually called grey mullet) and flat fish including turbot, plaice, megrim sole and sand sole (often called Devon sole). Megrim and sand soles are both fantastic sustainable alternatives to the more famous Dover sole. There was also a fairly comprehensive offering of shellfish from luxurious lobster, oysters and langoustines, to crab, whelks, mussels and cockles.
Sustainability is a key consideration for Innis and Carol when it comes to purchasing, which is done daily direct from day boats and at fish markets across the south west. Fish is line caught where possible and scallops hand dived if the weather is favourable. Although the vast majority of stock is caught in UK waters, predominantly off the South West coast, some non – native species such as pre-cooked king prawns and raw tiger prawns are available to satisfy customer demand. None of the fish has been previously frozen, as is so often the case in supermarkets.
The shop also stocks a small selection of drop nets, crab lines and children’s rods, perfect for a trip to the harbour.
A really unusual and useful point of difference about Fishbox is that prices are per fish, not per kilo. This allows the customer to see exactly what they are getting for their money and to work to a budget with ease. I selected a hake at £12 and 1kg River Teign (Devon) mussels at £5 per kilo. Hake is a real favourite of mine, a plentiful, delicate tasting fish and a good alternative to cod (it’s from the same family). The flesh is soft and flaky but firms up when cooked. It’s very popular in Spain, where much of the UK catch is exported but is gaining popularity here and likely to be found on many of the counties pub and restaurant menus. The Marine Stewardship Council recommend avoid buying hake during its February to July breeding season.
This is certainly no Monday night supper dish but if you’re a keen cook or wanting to impress for a special occasion, it is well worth the effort. To cut down on the preparation shop-bought gnocchi can be used – add a few of the chopped herbs to the sauce instead to retain the vibrant herb flavours. A good quality shop bought fish stock may also be used; be careful when reducing though as the sauce may become too salty. Cod or Pollack would also work well in this dish.
Hake with mussels, herb gnocchi and courgette nage (To serve 6)
1 2-3kg hake, scaled, filleted and pin boned by your fishmonger. Retain the head and bones to make a fish stock (or use a good quality shop bought stock)
For the gnocchi
1kg floury potatoes, Maris Piper are ideal
100g plain flour
1 large egg, beaten lightly
1 tbsp salt
Small bunch chives, finely chopped
Small punch dill or fennel fronds, finely chopped
Small bunch basil, finely chopped
Boil the potatoes whole. Skin whilst still hot and mash well. Ideally use a potato ricer or mouli if you have one; this will result in a smooth and very light mash. Scatter with the salt and herbs.
Sift the flour onto the warm potato; make a well in the centre and add the egg. Draw the flour in to form a dough; do not overwork or it will become tough and rubbery. Divide into 4 equal portions.
Roll into sausages, 1.5 cm in diameter and cut into pieces 2cm in length, leaving you with a series of rectangles. Roll each piece onto a fork, over the prongs, leaving little ridges.
For the mussels
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, sliced
Few sprigs thyme (ideally lemon thyme)
½ a bulb fennel, finely chopped or a handful fennel fronds
1x slice lemon
Small glass dry white wine
Prepare the mussels: immerse in cold water, clean and de-beard, discarding any which are broken or which do not close when given a sharp tap, drain and immerse again. It is important to do this to ensure all grit is removed – you don’t want any sand making its way into your carefully made sauce.
Put the onion, garlic, thyme, fennel, lemon and wine into a large pan with the mussels. Cover with a tightly fitting lid and steam for 3 minutes or until the shells are just open. Pass the liquor through a fine sieve. Return to the heat and reduce by 2/3.
Remove the mussels from their shells and discard the shells and vegetables.
For the sauce
Reduced mussel liquor
1ltr fish stock
1 courgette, finely diced
Reduce the fish stock by 2/3. Add to the mussel liquor and reduce a little more. Take a little on a spoon and add a few grains of salt. You should have a delicate but flavoursome nage. To further concentrate the flavours, reduce more as necessary.
Score a cross into the top of the tomatoes and drop into a pan of boiling water for 15 seconds. Remove and immediately immerse in cold water. This will make the skins easy to remove. Peel, remove the seeds and finely dice.
Preheat the oven to 200°C, gas mark 6.
Heat a non-stick pan until fairly hot; add a glug of olive oil. Put in the fish, skin side down and cook for 4 minutes until the skin is beginning to crisp. Transfer to the oven and cook for a further 4 minutes or until the hake is just cooked.
Cook the gnocchi in boiling salted water for 3 minutes or until they rise to the surface.
Warm through the sauce with the diced courgette until tender, add the cooked gnocchi, mussels and diced tomato for the last 30 seconds or so to warm through.
Transfer the hake to a plate. Surround with 8-10 pieces gnocchi, some mussels and a few spoonfuls of nage. Garnish with fennel fronds.
The Fishbox Dorset Ltd
t: 01305 776798
Open Monday – Friday 8.30am – 5pm – Saturday 8am – 2pm