A passion and obsession with Seafood...

Fri 2nd November 2018
Cj Jackson770X600

An appreciation of enjoying food and avoiding waste was instilled in us as children growing up in the 1960-70's era and educated by parents who had lived during WW2. We were not exposed to the global ingredients that are so readily available now but lived by the seasons. The most exotic ingredient in my childhood was avocado - that cost 21p in 1968!

My childhood was a bit bohemian and I was the youngest in my family. My Dad who was a lawyer wanted us to live as much as we could on the land so we had a near self sufficient small holding.  My jobs were hand rearing calves, milking our goats and helping in the kitchen, garden and cooking.

My parents loved all types of seafood and we would go on family expeditions to catch freshwater crayfish, fishing for pollack off the west coast of Scotland and trout and salmon fishing on the River Findhorn. Foraging for wild food and fishing were family holiday activities. Something I still love today. We fully appreciated everything the UK had to offer and I didn't travel abroad until I was 21.

Friday night family treats were experimenting with all manner of shellfish that my Dad brought home from a seafood stand on his way home from work. I loved watching him dress a crab. His special ingredient was a splash of malt vinegar in brown crab meat. It rounds off the richness to perfection and I still add it today. 

My dad was brought up in Lyme Regis and money was tight. He and his brother would gather winkles in a bucket and bring them home for tea. He regales stories of keeping these in a bucket that were still live under his bed and as they were nocturnal, they would work their way out of the bucket and up the bedroom walls during the night! He introduced me to them and one of my earliest memories was sitting with my dad extracting winkles from the shell with a pin and dipping in malt vinegar and salt. I think of that and can remember the taste memory which is still there! Educate children early and they do become seafood lovers for life.

After school, all I wanted to do was travel and I went to train as a cook at The Cordon Bleu in London to facilitate that. Cordon Bleu had a fantastic repertoire of classic seafood dishes and always the best ingredients in season. I then went to teach at Prue Leiths where the repertoire was based around the most popular species.  I had a chance to work on my first book with well known food writer Caroline Waldegrave and we created The Leiths Fish Bible together in 1995. My role was researching the species and I became obsessed with learning more and developing recipes.

From Leiths, I have been lucky enough to find work in short stints abroad and I've also had opportunities to go fishing in many countries. 

I became CEO of the Seafood School at Billingsgate in 2005 and there began the next part of my  journey and learning about the industry both here and abroad. Sustain issues and responsible sourcing are more important than ever and of course the industry were aware of these as far back as the Victorian era! 

In my role I've worked with some of the merchants at Billingsgate and picked up on any opportunity to learn more. Trips to Alaska, Norway, Spain, Portugal, Australia, the Ukraine, USA  and Iceland have taught me a huge amount about the industry and the more I learn the more fascinated I am about this amazing industry and the more I want to explore.

I have published a number of other books including The Fish Cookbook for Dorling Kindersley and Billingsgate Market Cookbook. I still want to write another book; but I now blog and write for a number of publications, Delicious Magazine being one of them.

The Seafood School has opened lots of doors for me and especially opportunities to share my own understanding of seafood on TV and radio. I feel very excited about the industry and I have met some fascinating individuals. Especially fishermen! Paul Joy from Hastings Fisherman's Protection Society, Jimmy Buchan from the Amity - they all have some tales to tell!

Over the last 2 years I've been A seafood ambassador for Seafish. They too have helped me develop my understanding and I've met some unsung heroes who quietly go about sharing that knowledge and promoting the industry. I have a number of seafood mentors that have inspired me along the way. Jess Sparkes from Seafish is my latest. Fred Stroyan founder of New England Seafood, the late Peter Stagg founder of Le Lien was another and my fishmonger guru is Mick Mahoney who cuts fish with ease from New England!

At the helm of the seafood school, I do manage to teach and share a lot. We have so many courses for industry, chefs and general public. The more I teach, the more I try and make the message simpler to understand. I now focus my teaching on tasting seafood with no adornments at all. Good quality fish and shellfish need so little help and simply understanding what fish looks like, how little cooking it needs and how simplicity works well is the key to encouraging more consumption. It is all about giving the consumer confidence to try something new. Smother it with sauces and garnishes and the best part is lost. Seafood is so versatile. You can steam, poach, stir-fry, deep-fry, grill and bake plus even a slow braising of cuttlefish and octopus.

There are some fantastic chefs in the UK serving up all seafood to their customers and we know most seafood is consumed outside of the home. At the school we want more people to have the simple knowledge to choose the best seafood and have the confidence to cook it in the home without the lingering aroma of cooked fish. Seafood is the best fast food available and it doesn't have to be expensive either. 

I am passionate about teaching at the school, writing seafood recipes and articles about seafood, demonstrating at food festivals and Hastings especially the seasonal Herring Fair, coming up in November and sharing lots of this on Sunday Brunch. Also creating new courses for the seafood school to be delivered by the small but fantastic staff at the school.

I am proud to be a member of the Livery of the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers' and they are fully behind the school and industry. 

I learn something new about seafood every week and the more I learn the more I want to know.

I have 2 mottos! I if you think you know everything about an industry it is time to find a new career. So I'm far from a change of career yet!

And a recipe is a starting point not a destination. So play with a recipe and make it your own.

CJ Jackson

Would this encourage you to cook or eat fish?