CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Surrey Life today CLICK HERE

Learning seafood secrets with Abinger Cookery School

PUBLISHED: 19:05 27 September 2016 | UPDATED: 19:05 27 September 2016

Dave Hall, Francis Kendall, Jake Pinn (chef), Niki Amor, Amanda Forshew, Charlotte Harris and Colleen Watkins

Dave Hall, Francis Kendall, Jake Pinn (chef), Niki Amor, Amanda Forshew, Charlotte Harris and Colleen Watkins

Pete Gardner Photography

If cooking seafood leaves you feeling a bit like, well, a fish out of water, Abinger Cookery School has the answer. Surrey Life’s Pete Gardner joined their one-day Seafood Secrets course to learn the tricks of the trade

Filleting fish is not as easy as it looks - but, thanks to this course, Pete has now nailed itFilleting fish is not as easy as it looks - but, thanks to this course, Pete has now nailed it

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine September 2016


A couple of years ago, our faithful Surrey Life readers may recall I spent a day at the Abinger Cookery School doing battle with Scotch eggs and ‘cow pies’ in an effort to learn how to cook Dude Food – just one of the many courses on offer here in the leafy backwoods of Surrey. 
Well, the editor has decreed that I need some more training in the culinary arts and so it is that I find myself packed off again – this time to grapple with Seafood Secrets – an area of cooking that has always left me slightly fearful whenever I gaze at the acres of fish staring back at me from the fishmonger’s slab…

Today, there are nine of us on the course, we men being outnumbered two to one by the ladies who seem much more relaxed about the approaching day. Looking around at our surroundings, the old converted Abinger Arms building lends itself perfectly to this venture, complete with a beautifully-fitted kitchen featuring individual work stations built around a central area where the chef demonstrates his skills, plus a dining area to try out your efforts and a large room with armchairs in which to relax afterwards.

Fishing for compliments

Now, it’s not often I get the opportunity to show off my mussels to an admiring crowd (mussels, I said – the seafood variety…) so it is with great excitement that I manage to turn out the first dish of the day with a moderate amount of success. Mussels with Chorizo and Cider appears, at first glance, an odd combination of ingredients – but not so. Careful preparation and the addition of important little elements fuses the whole dish into a fabulous celebration of taste and texture.

Wash, de-beard and scrape clean (sounds like me first thing in the morning) and you have the main ingredient in a beautiful glistening blue pile. A quick tap will also tell you which ones are still alive and kicking (a dead mussel at this point is not good) and then onto the chorizo and other bits and bobs. The whole dish is very rewarding as it takes only minutes to steam the shellfish in the delicious liquor – and then of course it has to be eaten immediately… a finger bowl is an essential requirement here, by the way.

No time for dawdling though, and our chef and tutor, Jake Pinn, has us all straight back at the chopping board to deal with a very slippery customer – the squid. Interestingly, these little beasts have legs, wings and a beak, but here the similarity between them and, say, a chicken ends abruptly. Legs (as Jake insists on calling the tentacles) are definitely on the menu, but the beak and wings are swiftly removed. The messy bit (you wouldn’t believe what’s inside a squid tube) is dealt with and what’s left is coated in flour and chilli flakes, quickly deep-fried and tossed in parsley and garlic. Delicious! A hot tip from the chef – cook them very fast or very slow – in-between and apparently it’s like eating a rubber band.

A different kettle...

Anyway, we have other fish to fry – bream and lemon sole in fact – two quite different types, the sole being a flat fish while the bream is beautiful, plump and silver-scaled. For some reason known only to the lemon sole, it has, rather conveniently, a line running along the backbone that you can follow with the knife – a bit like the cereal packets that tell you to tear along the dotted line to open – but no such guidelines on the bream. It’s a steep learning curve as they say: scales are scraped off underwater to prevent them showering the room; knife skills are needed to gently ease the fillets away; chef’s tweezers are used to prick out the tiny bones left behind; and, finally, the perfect fillets (ha ha) laid to one side for inspection. Two different fish then, and two very different ways of cooking them.

The bream is given a quick dusting of flour, seasoned and popped in a pan of olive oil and butter – skin-side down first to give a lovely crisp result before turning over to finish. The lemon sole, however, is dipped in a tempura batter made from cornflour, plain flour, salt, baking powder and soda water. Mixed to the consistency of wet paint (and oddly the same colour as the Magnolia on the walls of my sitting room…), the coated fish is placed gently in the bubbling deep-fryer. The idea is that the delicate fillets steam inside the batter while producing a superb crunchy texture on the outside. The result is a piece of delicate fish about as far removed from the cod down the local chippy as I am from the MasterChef final… Superb.

Bit on the side

Of course, no cookery course would be worth its salt without a few lessons on side dishes and accompaniments – and Jake is on it before we can rest on our laurels. Home-made mayonnaise (fresh eggs, mustard and oil carefully drizzled in) is added to capers, gherkins and parsley for the tartare sauce. Oh, and talking of the local chippy, we even get to knock up a bowl of mushy peas, or rather Crushed Peas with Mint and Almonds, which just works so well with the deep-fried sole.

Hanging up my apron, I think to myself that it’s been a good day – a mixture of fun and hard work – and I really do now feel inspired to tackle those fish gazing at me in the fishmonger’s. Indeed, a few days later, I buy a couple of sea bream and it is with great satisfaction that I decline the offer from the girl behind the counter to gut them for me. “Oh,” she exclaims, “I wish everyone would do it themselves!” “Ah,” I say quietly. “I’ve been on a course…”


Need to know

The Abinger Cookery School, Guildford Road, Abinger Hammer RH5 6RZ. Tel: 01306 730470. Web: Seafood Secrets is a one-day course on fish cookery including selecting, preparing and cooking. Priced at £140. Several other courses are also on offer.

More from Surrey Life


From Santa’s Grottos, to Victorian Christmas markets and late-night shopping, we’ve covered what’s on in Surrey this season

Read more

Whether you're looking for fine dining, pub grub or exotic dishes, eating out in Surrey has something for everyone. Here's our guide to the best local restaurants and pubs

Read more

Having bloomed in Brighton’s restaurant scene over the past decade, The Chilli Pickle opened its second site in Guildford this summer

Read more
Yesterday, 14:32

Historic Royal Palaces and IMG have announced that Kylie Minogue is the first headliner confirmed for Hampton Court Palace Festival 2019. These will be her only London shows of summer 2019. Here’s how you can get tickets

Read more
Yesterday, 12:56

Enjoy this linear rail to ramble section of the Thames Down Link route taking the short train-ride from Box Hill & Westhumble to Ashtead before walking back

Read more
Yesterday, 12:13

Great things to do in Surrey this weekend (16, 17 and 18 November): art exhibitions, walks, concerts, theatre, places to visit and other events and ideas.

Read more
Friday, November 9, 2018

We round up 10 of the most beautiful photos of Surrey shared on Instagram this week…

Read more
Tuesday, November 6, 2018

It’s that time of year when our beautiful countryside is alight with the colours of autumn. Here, we pick out some of her favourite spots to enjoy the seasonal splendour – as well as some perfect places for a post-walk refresher

Read more
Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Found on the stretch of the River Thames between Weybridge and East Molesey, Sunbury-on-Thames is blessed with a village feel where it meets the water. From antique hunts to the joys of river life, here are a few of our favourite reasons to visit

Read more
Monday, November 5, 2018

Verity & Violet are Loui and Jess – a singing duo from Surrey who specialise in blending vintage classics with modern favourites. The two have achieved success in the capital, but are now hoping to attract an audience closer to home

Read more
Friday, November 2, 2018

With the Christmas celebrations seemingly starting earlier every year, it all feels a little too ‘soon’ sometimes, but what if you want to look your best for Christmas & New year celebrations and are considering having cosmetic non-surgical procedures? The Bella Vou Pantiles Clinic offers surgical and non-surgical cosmetic procedures and treatments from a purpose-built private clinic in the heart of Royal Tunbridge Wells

Read more
Thursday, November 1, 2018

Living in England’s most densely wooded county, it’s always a pleasure to witness Surrey donning its autumn finery. Here’s some of the best places to do just that - plus a few pub pit stops to enjoy on route!

Read more
Wednesday, October 31, 2018

We are regularly reminded of the high cost of housing with statistics revealing that only one in three millennials will be able to afford their own home during their lifetime and that most will remain in the category known as Generation Rent

Read more
Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Year 5 pupils at Reigate St Mary’s School (RSM) who designed and carried out a community project as part of a UK wide Make a Difference Challenge, have won the London area competition for their stunning scrapbook record of their project

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Topics of Interest

Follow us on Twitter

Like us on Facebook

Subscribe or buy a mag today

subscription ad

Local Business Directory

Property Search