Getting to Grips with Shellfish
This month, UK shellfish expert and cook, Rosemary Williams, shares with us her journey and through demonstrating how to prepare and cook all kinds of shellfish, she is slowly but surely educating and inspiring a whole generation to embrace eating shellfish more regularly and dispelling any myths about its preparation and consumption. This months she focuses on the much underrated and misunderstood whelk, once eaten by the thousand in seaside venues and from the ubiquitous shellfish stalls in London, buy now very much a high value export species to the likes of South Korea
Rosemary Williams was born in Cornwall, growing up with a family background in a seafood environment. She follows her Uncle Graham and Grandad Stanley Holbrook with her interest in business. Stanley was a shellfish merchant in Sittingbourne, Kent. Through listening and working with Graham she is publishing a series of ‘Prep That Fish’books. They’re based on the Holbrook method of efficiently preparing the many types of shellfish. Now living in Kent, Rosemary is also interested in where foods come from, sustainability and recycling.
She remembers back to when it started…
“No, no, no! I want you to show me how to do it!’’
“But you can follow the photographs and writing, at your own pace from my book,’’ I reply
“No, no, no. I can’t. Show me!’’
I’ve written the first book about preparing crab and want to get on writing the other eight shellfish in the series. I’ve no plans to do practical sessions, so stop to think.
The client is persistent and I draw up a plan; how many people per session, where can I hold it, what would I need, how much will it cost to set up and how much will I charge?
Six people, so six aprons, surface protectors, cutlery, crockery plus the shellfish!
Shopping for each of the sustainable shellfish still in its shell is not as easy as I expected. Fish merchants tend to supply shellfish already cleaned and prepared.
After finding suitable merchants, so began the unique shellfish experiences, starting with crab, followed by the eight shellfish in the series.
The events are a hit, so I split my time between writing, research, demonstrations and providing shellfish experiences.
Dates are arranged and invitations sent out. My aim is for people to learn and become more adventurous and confident to eat shellfish.
Each unique shellfish experience is three days’ work for me – shopping, preparing the venue, equipment, the meal, the session, then a day to clear and follow-up.
We start with allergies, hygiene, sustainability and recycling – typical comments people write to me after the experience are ‘’truly professional in your approach ’’.
“I really enjoyed the session, the time went so quickly’’.
They find out about the shellfish, types, methods and how to cook them. “You also kept it informal and relaxing’’
“The class started me with skills I never imagined I might gain. I had my food-prep-comfort zone expertly stretched!’’
Other unique shellfish experiences available are for oysters, mussels, scallops and whelks. Planned to follow are for lobster, cockles, winkles and clams. Although Grandad did not prepare and serve razor clams, my Uncle Graham, just before he died in 2017, said how much he liked them and requested we did a book on how to prepare them too.
A lot of people tell me they don’t like one shellfish or another, claiming they’re tough, rubbery or look so unappetizing. But I’ve converted many people now, who have tasted shellfish the way they’re supposed to be prepared and cooked.
Many places serve whelks that have been mechanically de-shelled. The family of Graham West, now owner of West Whelks, supplied my Grandad Stanley Holbrook and my Uncle with whelks. Derrek and Jean West, his parents, still prepare the whelks carefully by hand so there is no damage to the meat. Visitors add seasoning with a cheerful smile, before popping them in their mouth and giving them a chew.
People who come to a shellfish experience find out not only how to prepare each type effectively and efficiently but gain an insight into how calming preparing food can be. Key facts are provided, so regarding whelks, for instance, it is how to ‘de-bag’ them. Such specialist family knowledge has been passed down to me through my Uncle Graham.
Finally after preparing, cooking and the meal I provide appropriate desserts, tea and coffee, for I like people to go away, not only with valuable knowledge and skill to prepare each shellfish confidently at home and professionally, but also with a full tum!
Photographs by Severien Vits
Author of ‘Prep That Fish’
S.M. Sarah Hawes
P.A. Clare Runham