Norfolk Passport

Top 5 | Norfolk Seafood

We're very blessed along the stretch of the Norfolk coastline to have a bounty of local fish and shellfish to choose from. Not just the summer season of lobster and crab, but lots in the winter months too. This special ecosystem is created by a current of cold water sweeping down from Norway, which brings an abundance of nutrients and the consequent food chain of marine life with it. It hits the top of the North Norfolk coast, creating a longshore drift which spreads itself west to King’s Lynn and the Wash, round to Lowestoft in the east depositing sand and shingle in its wake. This is what has created all the spits of sand, shingle banks and marsh land, and over the centuries the local population has always made a living from it. Today small scale and family run businesses harvest fish and farm these waters and inlets, and then sell their seafood to the shops, pubs and restaurants in the area.   

Locals John and Fiona Griffin have taken years building their network of suppliers, to bring all these local fish (and so much more) together selling it under one roof at the North Norfolk Fish Company. Tucked away in Holt's Old Stable Yard, for more than 20 years their combined skills have made this what I consider to be the best place in Norfolk to buy fantastic fresh and smoked fish and of course, shellfish. Fiona is a brilliant cook and makes her own range of delicious home-made fish cakes, pâtés, tarts, mayos and ready meals for their shop. Although small, the shop is stylish in every detail and smells of a sparkling sea. When in Norfolk this is the best pick for the season.   

Brown shrimps - landed at King’s Lynn

So much more flavour than a pink shrimp, these are boiled at sea in sea water, as soon as they are netted. Yes, they're a fiddle to peel, but just as sweet and worth the time as podding your own fresh peas. You can always ‘cheat’ and buy peeled, at a price of course. They make the best potted shrimps with unsalted butter and seasoning - in fact John makes the best potted shrimps I've ever tasted! He says he can't cook, but these are a labour of love. 

Longshore herring and skate

Our waters used to team with these silver darlings, with a huge salting and smoking industry to back it up. Although much smaller numbers are caught today, they are still sustainable, but not altogether fashionable. Lots of people don't like dealing with its fine network of bones. They're still incredibly cheap and nutritious, making a delicious dinner when grilled especially during the winter months if your able to find them with their roes in. Try with skirlie (a panfried oatmeal stuffing) and no visit to Norfolk is complete without trying a Lowestoft smoked kipper. 

Skate is another fish that people seem to love or hate…but I love it! Its wings of thickly ribbed very white flesh, sandwiching either side of a cartilaginous bone, are much easier to tackle than a lot of fish. You just scrape one way from the thick edge to the thin edge of the wing and the meat comes away in a long curl. Look for sparkling fresh fish, it may even have a slightly pearly pink tinge to it. Grilled, steamed or pan fried, it's delicious with butter and capers, or try melting some potted shrimps over the top before serving.

Brancaster oysters

The oyster beds in Brancaster Harbour grow Pacific rock oysters which resemble layers of fragile tree bark making them so beautiful to look at. The shell has mottled shades of grey and brown, concealing a deep bath of opalescent white inside. It takes skill to open them cleanly and not spill the briny liquor that each oyster sits in. Opinion is divided upon whether you should just swallow an oyster, or chew it. Whichever your preference, they taste of the essence of the sea, and because they are farmed, they are available all year round. Try with tabasco, lemon or some shallot vinegar sprinkled over, or if you prefer not to eat them raw, grill for a couple of minutes with butter and herbs or a little garlic. 

Longshore cod 

These have beautifully marked skin, grey or putty coloured with astounding gold lines and flecks. Its pearly white flesh cooks to succulent flakes. Make the most of this brief season of Seville oranges to make a clean tasting and vibrant sauce to accompany a simply grilled piece using my recipe.

Seville orange sauce to go with Longshore cod (one portion):

  • Juice 1/2 Seville orange or 1/2 lemon
  • Juice 1 sweet orange
  • 1 small shallot, diced finely
  • 1 tablespoon dry vermouth (optional)
  • 25g cold cubed unsalted butter
  • Dessertspoon finely chopped flat parsley.

Whilst the fish is grilling/ roasting with olive oil, salt and pepper, make the sauce. Put orange juices and shallot in a small non-reactive pan with the vermouth if using. Boil fast for a minute or two to reduce a little.

Then draw off heat and swirl in the cold cubed butter, whisking until melted and the sauce has thickened slightly. Add a little salt and keep warm, but away from direct heat. Throw in parsley just before pouring over / under fish to serve.

Mussels, from Brancaster and Wells-Next-The-Sea

You need a cold weather season for mussels which we have in Norfolk. Normally from October until the end of March when they start to spawn but it varies every year depending on weather and temperature. The local dark blue shells contain plump orangey hued mussels. And after a good scrub and debearding, they only require the briefest of steaming until they open and are done.

Today, they are farmed in Brancaster and Wells harbours (Wells-Next-The-Sea harbour image). The mussel beds are 'seeded' every year, and will take about two and half years to grow to maturity for harvest. Like oyster husbandry, it's a hard life for those that work the lays, as they are out in often ferocious winds and freezing weather during the dark of winter. Their dedication and passion help sustain jobs and quality seafood for people who live in and visit Norfolk.

Article by professional chef and co-owner of Yetman’s brewery, Ali Yetman.