There are few things that are going to get me out of my bed at 4.30am on a Saturday morning, as in very few things, ’cause this girl loves her lie in as much as the next gal.
But when an eloquent invitation from Douglas Blyde inviting me and Colleen to a Muscadet Magic wine tasting and morning of cooking, I have to say, I was sold!
I sleepily rolled into my taxi at the frightfully early time of 5.35 and headed to Billingsgate Market, London’s early morning fresh fish market. Frankly, I was both hungry, tired and in need of caffeine so I was very glad we were starting the morning at Piggy’s Café for a well deserved cup of tea and wait for it…
…a bacon and scallop roll! Yup, you heard right; it was a surf and turf delight that was just the greasy spoon that I needed to wake me up.
A few days before the event we had all been sent a brief for our Bond like should you choose to accept your mission style event. As Douglas Blyde is a very impressive sommelier and wine connoiseur, our mission was to buy fresh fish at Billingsgate Market and create a dish that we believed would pair well with the notes of Muscadet wine.
We set off with our £25 budget (which turned out to be very generous considering Billingsgate is primarily a trade market) and toyed with what we were going to buy….
Lobster?! Exotic fish?!
There were literally thousands of options! Though what was quite eye-opening was that I was half asleep and couldn’t fathom how anyone could possibly wake up at this hour, only to discover that the fishmongers will start setting up at 1 or 2am every morning. Oh. My. Goodness.
It really was an incredible experience; if you can face the early wake up call, it’s the place to buy fresh fish in London. Just make sure you wear shoes with a lot of grip, ’cause you don’t want to slip on all the ice, water and who-knows-what on the floor!
Prepare for a bit of a crazy time: people shouting everywhere, things sloshing on the floor. In fact, for the first five minutes, a slightly hungover Colleen and I were most confused and a little panicked! But it really was a most hilarious experience – especially trying to figure out what everything was and trying not to slip!
But we eventually settled on a linguine with clams, scallops and mussels, with chilli, fresh herbs and lots of lemon juice.
After we had all made our many purchases, we headed upstairs to the Billingsgate Seafood School where CJ, the head of the school, taught us how to deal with our fish properly. With Colleen turning to me and saying, “I can shuck an oyster if that helps?” even though we didn’t have any oysters, I knew we could potentially be in for a hilarious hour or so!
It was fantastic to be taught exactly what to do with each kind of fish to make sure that it was prepared in the proper way. Did you know that scallops have eyes? Yeap, we were a little freaked out by that one, but I loved finding out more about what it was the we were eating.
CJ is running some Learn the Basics courses which I would highly recommend if you enjoy eating and cooking fish but aren’t as knowledgeable as you’d like to be. Though the best tip I picked up was that when touching fish, wash your hands with cold water before hot water unless you want a fishy reminder of your cooking the next day..!
With our fish in hand, and having had another cup of coffee to wake us up after our post-shopping lull (turns out I get the same lull if I’m shopping for shoes or fish, who knew?) we jumped in taxis, said goodbye to the market and headed to Central Street Cookery School to get the knives out..!
Douglas welcomed us with glasses of Muscadet, from Aldi’s Exquisite Collection, which were served deliciously cold and have a lovely citrus taste. The perfect reward for our shucking, de-bearding and de-scaling efforts, don’t you think?
We certainly did as we treated ourselves to a few glasses as Douglas and Jon Massey of the Wharf Newspaper came round and quizzed us, Great British Bake Off (Fish Off?) style about what we were cooking and how we were preparing it.
We pan fried our scallops in butter with a little pepper and let them rest, and at the same time we steamed the clams and mussels open with a little garlic and a little white wine (don’t panic, Douglas, we knew the Muscadet was far too good to cook with and used a different white wine!) and put the pasta on to boil.
The sauce was made with some fresh tomatoes, chilli and herbs all gently fried with a little olive oil and a little more garlic, hoping that the citrus flavour of the Muscadet would cut through the chilli in the dish, creating a delicious pairing.
Not a bad concoction for just 50 minutes work, don’t you think? I thought so – just call me Nigella.
It was so nice to meet Rosie, famed for not just her blog but her incredible pop ups that I’m desperate to visit, and to watch her cook! She whipped up the most amazing ceviche with her partner for the day, Emily, which was divine.
After all our dishes had been tasted, critiqued, and most worryingly, filmed, we sat down to try each other’s dishes and enjoy a Muscadet tasting. Having drunk my fair share of Muscadet whilst living in France but not really having a clue what it was meant to taste like… (I’ll say no more about that one, shall I?) I was really looking forward to this.
Before I tell you all about the delicious wines that we had (hiccup!), just look at some of the incredible creations…
We started with the Cotes de Grandlieu (Waitrose £7.99) which is matured on the lees (Msucadet sur lie) was a dleicious wine which slipped down quite merrily!
Next up was La Nantaise Reserve 2014 (Laithwaites £9.99) and Les Gras Moutons 2013, a wine that Richard Hemming used to launch his mission for Muscadet, hoping that more of us would drink it, suggesting that ‘every cheap Pinot Grigio or branded Sauvignon Blanc we default to is a vote against wine’s great diversity.’ So you’ve heard it: drink more Muscadet people.
Finally, we sampled the delights of Le Pallet 2010, which had been matured in oak barrels and had a slight butterscotch note to it, or as Douglas said “a fur coat on a slender form” – I would try to paraphrase that but I’m just not sure I could do much better. All in all, a delicious end to a wonderful morning.
So what did Colleen and I do with our new found knowledge? Well, we just had to try it all out didn’t we? We headed in search of more Muscadet and even more fun.
Worth the insanely early start? You bet. Would I recommend Muscadet as a totally underrated wine which you need to try? Cheers to that!
Find out more about Muscadet from Loire Valley Wines, here.