The Seafood Shack’s new book proves cooking with fish doesn’t have to be complicated

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Cooking with fish might seem intimidating, but many dishes are beautifully simple. From haddock cakes to Thai monkfish curry, dive into delicious recipes from the women behind acclaimed Scottish restaurant The Seafood Shack.

Fresh langoustine, crab, salmon and more: sitting down to a plate of seafood has to be one of the most evocative culinary experiences. It needs no introduction, really; one mouthful and you can almost smell the sea breeze.

For many of us though, cooking seafood at home can feel dishearteningly daunting. Should we pin-bone the fish or fillet it? How does one clean a mussel? And what’s actually meant by ‘deveining’ a prawn? We definitely never tackled squid risotto in food tech at school.

Yet seafood can be refreshingly simple to prepare. Two people who know all about that are Fenella Renwick and Kirsty Scobie, founders of celebrated restaurant The Seafood Shack in Ullapool, a small fishing village on the north-west coast of Scotland.

In their new book The Seafood Shack: Food & Tales from Ullapool, the duo prove that anyone can cook with seafood, regardless of their culinary skills. They are, in their own words, “not amazing chefs, just two girls who love to cook” – a philosophy we can definitely get on board with – and their cookbook is filled with simple, delicious dishes of the kind served from behind the hatches of their harbourside shack.
The Seafood Shack: Food & Tales from Ullapool by Fenella Rawick and Kirsty Scobie

Alongside Rawick and Scobie’s signature recipes, the cookbook also features fascinating stories from the fishermen they work with on a daily basis. From Gary the scallop diver to Stephen the fishmonger, their knowledge is as vital to the survival of the Shack (and Ullapool’s local seafood industry) as their supply of sustainably-sourced produce.

Want to cook with seafood with confidence? Below, Rawick and Scobie share three fish recipes that are an utter cinch to make.

Fishcakes have a reputation for being bland and tasteless, but these fragrant haddock cakes are anything but. Spiced with chilli and zingy spring onions, they pack a flavourful punch, and go with just about any side you fancy.

For a heartier dish on chilly winter days, the cod and chorizo stew is a wonderfully colourful dish that will bring a taste of the Mediterranean to your kitchen.

Lastly, the Thai monkfish curry is a brilliant recipe to perk up your midweek meals when you’re craving warming spices. Fish really can do it all…

  • Haddock fishcakes

    Fenella and Kirsty say: “Fishcakes can often be a little bit bland and tasteless: you don’t want to overpower your fish, but you also don’t want to feel like you’re just eating fish and potatoes! Add some smoked fish if you want a stronger flavour but if you want to keep it light and fresh then don’t be shy with your lemon, herbs and seasoning.”

    Serves 4

    Ingredients

    • 400g white potatoes, peeled
    • 500g fresh haddock
    • 500ml full fat milk
    • 3 bay leaves
    • 1 fish stock cube
    • 1⁄2 bunch of spring onions, sliced
    • 2 garlic cloves, crushed and thinly sliced
    • 1⁄2 red chilli, deseeded and thinly sliced
    • small handful of flat leaf parsley, chopped
    • small handful of chives, chopped
    • juice and zest of 1⁄2 lemon
    • 250g plain flour
    • 2 eggs, beaten
    • salt and pepper

    For the breadcrumbs:

    • 3 slices of white bread
    • small handful of fresh herbs, chopped (we use parsley and dill)
    • vegetable oil, for deep frying

    Method

    Chop your potatoes into large chunks and put into a pan with enough cold water to cover them. Add two pinches of salt, bring to the boil and then simmer until soft. Drain and let them steam dry.

    While your potatoes are cooking, place your fish into a large pan or frying pan, cover with milk and add your bay leaves and some black pepper. Simmer your fish very gently until it flakes apart, making sure it doesn’t boil as the milk can separate very easily. 

    Drain your fish into a colander over the sink, pushing the fish down to squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Bin the bay leaves and flake the fish into a bowl (removing any stray bones).

    Put your stock cube in a small mug, add two tablespoons of boiling water and mix until you have a runny paste. Scrape this paste into the flaked fish and add the spring onions, garlic, chilli, parsley, chives and the lemon juice and zest. Mix well. When the potatoes are completely dry, mash them until there are no lumps, then add to the fish mix. Taste and season well.

    To make the breadcrumbs, put the bread and herbs into a food processor and whizz until you have fine textured breadcrumbs. Place your flour in one bowl, beaten eggs in another and breadcrumbs in another and season each bowl. 

    Roll the fish mix into eight evenly sized balls, then dip each one into the flour, then the egg and then the breadcrumbs, making sure they are fully coated. Place them on a plate or baking tray.

    We deep fry ours but they are just as good pan-fried if you prefer. To deep fry, put enough vegetable oil into a large pan or deep fryer to a depth that will fully cover a fishcake: don’t overfill the pan as the oil will bubble up when the fish cakes are added. 

    Heat slowly to 180°C, then carefully add a few fishcakes. Use tongs with your first cake and make sure the oil sizzles as soon as you put it in; remove it and wait if it doesn’t. Fry until the fishcakes are golden brown and start to float in the oil – about five minutes. Remove carefully with a slotted metal spoon and drain on kitchen roll. Put in a warmed oven while you cook the rest of the fishcakes. 

    If you are pan-frying, heat plenty of vegetable oil in a large frying pan, as your fishcakes will soak up the oil and burn if there isn’t enough. We flatten our fishcakes slightly as it makes them easier to cook. Fry them for around five minutes on each side, until crispy and golden brown all over.

    Tip: Always taste your mix before you form the fishcakes so you can adjust the flavours before it’s too late.

    These fishcakes can be frozen for up to three months – it’s easiest to wrap them individually in clingfilm first. 

  • Cod and chorizo stew

    Fenella and Kirsty say: “This is a wonderful heartwarming stew; it just feels wholesome and homely. The sour cream on top is, we think, really important and creates a lovely smooth finish. In the Shack, we always serve it with lemon and herb couscous and it goes down a storm.”

    Serves 4

    Ingredients

    • dash of vegetable or rapeseed oil
    • 100g chorizo, sliced and halved into nice chunks
    • 1 white onion, chopped
    • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
    • 1 red pepper, chopped
    • 1 x 400g tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed
    • 1 tbsp tomato purée
    • 1 fish stock cube
    • 1 tsp ground cumin
    • 2 tsp smoked paprika
    • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
    • 1 tbsp honey
    • 2 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
    • 4 skinless cod fillets (about 600g) cut into large chunks
    • 4 handfuls of curly kale, sliced
    • salt and pepper

    To serve:

    • 4 pittas, toasted
    • 4 tbsp sour cream
    • 4 wedges lemon

    Method

    Put your saucepan on a medium heat and add the oil and chorizo. Cook until the chorizo releases its oil, then add in the onions, garlic and red pepper. Cook these down for about five minutes until soft and sweet. 

    Add the drained chickpeas, tomato purée, the crumbled stock cube, cumin, smoked paprika, cayenne and honey and fry off for another five minutes. Stir in the tinned tomatoes and simmer for 15 minutes more. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

    Heat a frying pan on a medium heat and add a splash of oil. Get the pan nice and hot and put in your cod pieces, then season with salt and pepper. You want to sear the fish until it is only just cooked. 

    Add your tomato and chorizo stew mix to the pan along with the kale and simmer for another five minutes, until the cod flakes apart and the kale is tender. Serve with toasted pitta, sour cream and a wedge of lemon, and a big pile of lemon and herb couscous on the side.

    Tip: This also freezes really well – freeze before you add the cod and kale. 

  • Thai monkfish curry

    Fenella and Kirsty say: “This is one of our favourite curries to make both in the Shack and at home. Monkfish is a great fish to use in curries as it is meaty and holds its own in the strong flavours.”

    Serves 4

    Ingredients

    • 500g monkfish fillets
    • 2 tbsp vegetable or rapeseed oil
    • 2 red onions, roughly chopped
    • 1 white onion, sliced
    • 1 red or green chilli, thinly sliced (and deseeded if you don’t like too hot)
    • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped 1cm ginger, peeled and finely chopped or grated
    • 2 red peppers, thinly sliced
    • 2 tbsp Thai red curry paste
    • 2 tbsp tomato purée
    • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
    • 2 tsp ground cumin
    • 2 tsp smoked paprika
    • 1 fish stock cube
    • 2 tbsp runny honey
    • 2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes
    • 1 x 400ml tin coconut milk
    • 2 tbsp Thai fish sauce
    • 2 tbsp sweet chilli sauce
    • 2 tbsp soy sauce
    • 1 lime, quartered
    • 1 tbsp vegetable or rapeseed oil
    • salt

    To serve:

    • 4 pittas, toasted
    • 4 tbsp crème frâiche
    • handful of mangetout, sliced diagonally
    • 4 spring onions, sliced

    Method

    Cut the monkfish into 4cm chunks and set aside for now.

    Put your pan on a medium heat, and add the oil, red and white onions, chilli, garlic, ginger and peppers. Sweat everything down until your onions are caramelised – we normally do this for at least ten minutes. 

    When everything is very soft and sweet, stir in your red curry paste, tomato purée, cayenne pepper, cumin, smoked paprika and the crumbled fish stock cube, and then add the honey. Cook this off for five minutes until the smell of the spices really comes through, stirring all the time. 

    Add your tinned tomatoes, coconut milk, fish sauce, sweet chilli sauce and soy sauce. Squeeze and add in the quartered lime. You now want to cook this on a low simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes to thicken up your sauce and make it taste super delicious. Add a bit of salt if it needs it and keep stirring every five minutes to stop it burning on the bottom.

    You can add the monkfish straight to the curry, but we like to pan-fry it first to seal it. Get a non-stick frying pan and put in about a tablespoon of oil.

    Get the oil super hot and then fry off your monkfish until it’s slightly browned all over; you’re not trying to cook it so don’t worry if it’s still raw in the middle. Add your monkfish to your curry, and simmer very gently for another five minutes until it’s just cooked through (don’t overdo it as it can go very rubbery).

    Serve with a big pile of wild rice to soak up the sauce, some toasted pitta, a spoonful of crème frâiche and some crunchy mangetouts and spring onions to finish it off.

    Tip: If you want to freeze this, freeze just before you add the monkfish. 

    From The Seafood Shack: Food & Tales from Ullapool by Kirsty Scobie and Fenella Renwick (£20, Kitchen Press), out now

Photography: Clair Irwin

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Christobel Hastings

Christobel Hastings is a London-based journalist covering pop culture, feminism, LGBTQ and lore.