A couple of weeks ago, I had a gastronomic experience that took me back; way, way back to when I was a wee nipper and used to be sat in a high chair at mealtimes. After finishing, I was practically covered from head to toe in garlic and ginger flavoured grease. My hands were smothered with chopped coriander, rice-shaped flakes of white meat and curious brown gloop. Bits of shell were dotted all over my face and ribbons of green spring onion adorned my shiny bald head like pretty little garlands. And my eyes and nose were streaming; a river brought on by the glow of glorious hot chilli. And blimey it was good. So, so good.
The dish in question was Singapore Chilli Crab and OK, this probably isn’t the sort of food that you would serve up for a little toddler, but after leaning back in my chair, I was certainly cooing and giggling afterwards. I would have finished off proceedings by lying on the floor, to suck the remaining crab off my toes if I thought I could get away with it. But I don’t think that sort of behaviour would go down too well at the Padstow Seafood School. I mean, they definitely like to keep things light and jovial down there in Cornwall but I think that would have been a step too far.
It was nice to return to Rick Stein’s cooking academy. I went way back in 2005 for the ‘Original fish and seafood cookery’ course and had a great time under the tutorage of Mark Puckey and it was great to see that he was still there, still dispensing pearls of wisdom, as well as jokes and laughs. We only had a short space of time in the classroom with Mark but the knowledge he imparted was impressive. From testing the strength of a chilli (cut down the middle, run your finger along the seed stem and taste) to informing that most people are allergic to handling crabs and lobsters (so use plastic gloves when cooking) Mark seemed to squeeze a lot in whilst demonstrating the recipe for the day.
There was also the business end of ‘dispatching’ live crabs in the best and most humane way possible but what enamoured me most about proceedings was the general, laid back approach of the place. I have attended some cookery classes before where everything is chop chop, busy busy and fairly competitive but it’s not like that at all in Padstow. It’s probably a Cornish thing but then again, a glass of wine also helps to temper the pace.
Ending by sitting down and devouring a crab, that deliciously messy crab, cooked by my own fair hands was of course the icing on the cake, and with kind permission from Padstow Seafood School and courtesy of BBC Books, we are able to post the recipe on Great British Chefs. Saying that, I have amended it slightly, using cooked crab, to save the squeamish rigmarole of having to deal with live ones.