Mat Follas first grabbed the attention of the British public when he took part in the BBC’s Masterchef series in 2009. Winning the competition gave him the confidence, impetus and publicity to launch his own restaurant, making a permanent switch from a corporate IT career to one in food. Running The Wild Garlic for four years earned Mat an enduring reputation for classy but unpretentious cooking; he now offers the same at The Casterbridge in Dorchester.
Growing up in New Zealand, Mat and his brother lived a rough-and-tumble outdoors childhood, running wild and making mischief. A few years living by the coast engendered a love of the sea and its bounty. Mat looks back fondly to hours spent foraging for mussels, pipis (native clams) and cockles, taken home, cooked very simply and enjoyed with malt vinegar. Many years later, having moved to the UK via South East Asia, a love of scuba diving saw him regularly bringing home crabs, scallops and other hand-dived treats; it became a case of improving his cooking in order to make the best of abundant fresh seafood and other local produce.
In Fish: Delicious Recipes for Fish and Shellfish Mat shares recipes adapted from his time on Masterchef plus customer favourites from The Wild Garlic and a summer seafood restaurant he ran on Chesil beach last year. He has modified the recipes for a domestic kitchen and uses only ingredients that are readily available to home cooks.
Although the focus is on cooking, Mat doesn’t sidestep the issue of sustainability and conservation, sharing his tips on sourcing and buying fish in an environmentally friendly way, how best to substitute different fish and shellfish for many of his dishes and a reminder to buy seasonally.
Aware that “many people are scared of seafood because of bones or the complexity of filleting fish” Mat has included guidance on both, but reminds us that, in the same way we expect our butchers to prepare and portion our meat, we can ask fishmongers to prepare fish too.
Organising chapters by types of fish makes it easy to find a recipe to suit the catch (or purchase) of the day. A few recipes – like gravadlax, southeast asian masterstock poached carp, tuna & anchovy pizza and spelt-stuffed squid – need more time and are ideally suited to a leisurely weekend of cooking.
But many are perfect for a quick midweek supper; there are 25 recipes that can be made in half an hour or less, including monkfish harrisa kebabs, Thai fish cakes and tempura squid. If you have an hour to spare try salmon & dill pithiviers, Goan fish curry, flounder fillets with tarragon sauce or one of Mat’s signature dishes, a crab thermidor.
What I love about this book is the accessibility of the recipes – not only are they eminently suitable for home cooks, they are exactly the kind of food I want to make and eat at home. There’s also a reassuring sense that these dishes are achievable – even though they are attractively presented, Mat avoids the cheffy frills that overcomplicate.
Recipes From Fish
We are delighted to share a recipe from the book, with permission from publisher Ryland, Peters & Small.
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Kavey Eats received a review copy of Fish: Delicious Recipes for Fish and Shellfish by Mat Follas from publisher Ryland, Peters & Small. Photography by Steve Painter.