Fishing for a future -Wellgate Fisheries in Clitheroe - Sea bass with a cream and prawn sauce recipe

PUBLISHED: 17:34 06 April 2011 | UPDATED: 19:09 20 February 2013

Fishing for a future -Wellgate Fisheries in Clitheroe - Sea bass with a cream and prawn sauce recipe

Fishing for a future -Wellgate Fisheries in Clitheroe - Sea bass with a cream and prawn sauce recipe

Cookery editor Philippa James meets one of the next generation of masterchefs, seven-year-old Poppy Charnley and cooks Sea bass with a cream and prawn sauce

When I had a call from Lisa Charnley, about cookery courses for children I envisaged making pizzas, or meatballs, but her daughter Poppy is already quite a keen cook and didnt want a lesson in the basics, she wanted to learn how to gut fish!

So to give the seven-year-old, who dreams of a career as a chef, the opportunity to extend her culinary skills, we headed off with her mum, dad Jason, and three sisters, Millie, Daisy and Sadie, to meet Giles Shaw, at the family-run Wellgate Fisheries in Clitheroe.

The business started when it was bought in 1939 next to the towns well and some fifty years later it was purchased by Ian Shaw, whose son, Giles, was a former chef.

Giles used his knowledge and his background in catering to extend the business into the wholesale side, supplying many fine dining establishments across the Ribble Valley. So successful was this division of the business that, in 2009, an opportunity arose to expand into a purpose-built facility, in a joint venture with Manchester-based wholesaler, Smith Sagar.

As the Charnley family stood outside the tiny retail premises on Wellgate, it was easy to pick out a very excited Poppy - she was the one with the beaming smile and the chefs whites!

As we trooped into the shop, Poppys eyes sparkled at the wondrous display of glistening fish in the counter. Look! she said. Theres prawns and cockles, like at the beach, and, wow, mussels - you have to throw them away if they stay open, you know!

Giles explained to Poppy why you have to check mussels over and why if, when tapped, any stayed open, they were not safe to eat, he also showed her one with a beard and explained how to clean it.

Giles also ran through the process of how they oak smoke their own salmon, giving us all a sliver to taste, a delicate and woody delight.
Then lobster but not just the dressed one on display; Giles produced a live one! Initially a little daunted, Poppy winced away, but, after Giles explained how to hold it, she stood holding the creature for a photograph to show her friends how brave she is. Sadie Im four, but Im nearly five! was considerably less impressed and, at this juncture, Jason took the other girls out.

Giles ran through the names and attributes of the different fish.
Poppys enthusiasm was infectious; at one point, bouncing up and down on the balls of her feet, she shook her arms excitedly and announced: It smells like the seaside!

Scott, who runs the shop in Giles absence, found a sturdy box for her to stand on, Giles explained how you have to take the scales off a fish before starting to prepare it. He then took the head off a sea bass

Poppy watched, fascinated, and completely unfazed he ran his knife down the fish and the guts spilled out onto the board. Thats disgusting! she said. Well, said Giles, if you want to be a chef, youll have to learn how to do things like this, Poppy. She looked earnestly at him and nodded.

The innards quickly removed and the sea bass gutted, he then filleted the fish and showed how to pin-bone it with tweezers which Poppy also had a go at doing.

I set up a stove on the counter and Poppy watched as I cooked the fish, she looked into the pan; only minutes later it was almost cooked. Wheres the rest of it? she asked. Aaaah, Ive not finished, yet, I replied, getting some white wine and letting her have a sniff. That is very strong, she announced.

Then she tried a tiny caper - as I suspected, it ended up rapidly ejected, into kitchen paper - and she watched as I added wine, prawns, and capers to the pan, then, off the heat, double cream.

The rest of the family returned and everybody tasted the sea bass. Poppy tried a warm caper, and I was further impressed at her culinary knowledge when she advised that the caper may taste different, once it was cooked.
Giles and I agreed Poppy could be another Lisa Allen in the making and
it didnt go without note that Sadie gleefully tucked into baby carrots
and broccoli.

I asked about the regionality and seasonality of the fish, both very important features of the business, Giles said: I am passionate about sourcing the best fish I am able to and ensuring that it is responsibly sourced.

As we head into the summer, he receives wild trout and salmon from the Lune Valley, sea bass, as of this month, out of Morecambe Bay, and shrimps from Southport, a scrumptious and addictive recipe from Peets.

See me cooking

Over the next few months I will be demonstrating how to cook quick and tasty family meals with local produce at farmers markets.

On Thursday April 28th, at Morecambe, also from 9am to 2pm. There will be free tastings and recipe sheets, too

I love a good caper!

Capers are the pickled buds of the Capparis spinosa, or caper bush. They grow, and are extensively used in Mediterranean countries. Sometimes the buds are allowed to develop into bigger fruits, and these are known as caper berries, a Greek mezze.

When ready to pick, the buds are a dark, olive green, and are graded into five sizes, the most sought after being the tiny, non-pareil, which are up to 7mm, these are pickled in salt, or a salt and vinegar solution, and can also be drained, and salted. The flavour develops, and intensifies as mustard oil (Glucocapparin) is released from each bud, this also is the reason for crystallised, white spots forming on the buds, as rutin, a chemical compound is released in an enzymatic reaction.

Capers are widely used in Italian and Sicilian cooking, in salads, pasta dishes, notably Spaghetti alla puttanesca, as well as on pizzas.

Capers oiliness cuts well against white fish, but they also go into the traditional accompaniment for fried fish, tartare sauce, as well as often being served with cold, smoked, or cured salmon.

Sea bass with a cream and prawn sauce

This is an incredibly quick and easy dish to make, but impressive enough to serve for dinner with friends. It is great with most white fish and works well with salmon, too.


I allow two fillets of white fish, here sea bass, per person, skinless

Dry white wine, something light - Soave, Frascati, or Pinot Grigio are ideal

Double cream

Cooked prawns - a small handful per person

Capers - about 5-7 per person, the very small ones, pinhead-sized (optional)

Black pepper and salt


Butter or oil


1. Lightly season the fish with black pepper.

2. Warm a little butter, or mixture of butter and oil in a frying pan, until it foams.

3. Lay the fillets gently in the pan, away from you, so they dont spit, turn the heat down to medium, and cook for around 4-6 minutes, depending on how thick the fillets are.

The colour will change from opaque, to a proper solid white, as it cooks. If you are not sure if the fish is cooked, press firmly at the centre, and you should be able to see the flakes splitting slightly. At this point, turn the fillets over, and colour the second side, for about a minute, until golden brown.

4. Remove the fish to a warmed plate and keep warm.

5. Pour away any excess butter or oil from the pan; add some prawns and a few capers.

6. Turn the heat back up to high and pour in enough dry white wine to cover the base of the pan, cook for about a minute, this removes the raw taste and drives off the alcohol, so the dish is suitable for children

7. Remove from the heat and add a good splash of double cream, return to a low heat, just to warm the cream through. Check for seasoning; it shouldnt need salt. Pour over the fish, garnish with a sprinkling of chopped fresh parsley, and serve with seasonal vegetables.

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