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Tamsin Burnett-Hall and her mother, Diana, enjoyed expansive sea views on their way to Dartmoor to learn all about fish and seafood cookery.
Ashburton is a characterful small town full of cafes, restaurants and independent shops and, rather than a hotel, our centrally located accommodation was in one of two elegant Grade II-listed townhouses owned by the cookery school. In the morning, we enjoyed getting to know fellow students around communal tables over a continental-style breakfast with home- baked bread and local cheeses.
The cookery school provides a free minibus to its purpose-built buildings on the outskirts of town, but it’s only a 10-minute walk, and we decided to enjoy the stroll. Our cheerful course tutor, Stuart, a Devon native with a huge appreciation of local ingredients, welcomed us over coffee with a run-through our agenda for the next two days.
By making six recipes, he said, we’d learn what to look for when buying and preparing fish and seafood, as well as creating numerous tasting plates – no need to head out to eat! Weekend courses are mostly aimed at those who already feel fairly confident in the kitchen, but even accomplished cooks will come away with new skills and tips. Like us, many of our companions had travelled from all over the country.
Heading into the kitchen, we got straight onto filleting lemon sole, ready for poaching and serving with a vegetable ragout in a white-wine sauce. Each recipe was broken down into short stages that Stuart would demonstrate before we went back in pairs to our work stations to tackle them ourselves.
This made even the more complex-sounding recipes manageable, and provided lots of opportunity to learn and ask questions. My mother picked up all kinds of handy hints, such as washing a chopping board that has been used for raw fish or meat in cold water before hot, so the protein doesn’t ‘cook’ onto it. For me, it was the method of poaching clingfilm-wrapped lemon sole fillets that was a real revelation; I’d thought this was just a cheffy technique but it resulted in the most perfectly cooked fish, the delicate flavour preserved.
We both adore scallops, and griddled divinely plump local ones to serve with smoked aubergine caviar and a lemongrass and mussel dressing. My mother’s top-scoring dish was the crab taster plate, with crab cocktail, bisque, potted crab, and tempura squid. Painstakingly picking through the crab meat made us realise why it always costs so much, but it tasted wonderful. For me, the blackened mackerel with curried cauliflower ‘risotto’, pakora and curry oil was a particular hit.
Tucking our homemade baguettes and potted crab into our bags for the journey alongside our recipe handbooks, we headed back with a new enthusiasm for cooking and eating more fish at home.
Ashburton Cookery School offers half-day courses from £75 and weekend courses from £330. Accommodation (on a B&B basis) is from £138 for two nights single occupancy.