The cracking Bonnie Gull Seafood Masterclass

Bonnie Gull: my crab is bigger than yours
I won something! Seriously, I never win anything. My mum is the lucky one in the family. Every Christmas, she'll win the ham and most likely something else. It's uncanny. Me though, always diddly squat. But the stars must have aligned before Christmas because I won a Seafood Masterclass from the lovely people at Bonnie Gull in Exmouth Market via a Twitter competition. Colour me amazed and excited! I'm a pretty good cook (he says modestly), but seafood is an area that I don't tend to dabble in at home since it can be a bit daunting. No one wants to eat overcooked fish. Knowledge begets confidence though, so being given the chance to learn some tips from the professionals was keenly appreciated. Along with a three course lunch with matched wine plus a cocktail, the afternoon was hugely enjoyable. Granted it was a freebie, but I would definitely shell out the very reasonable £80 for this experience.

Over a spicy Bonnie Mary topped with a freshly shucked oyster, we were introduced to the Executive Chef, Luke Robinson, and Gavin Gordon, the Head Chef of the Exmouth Market location who talked us through the structure of the afternoon. Both were affable chaps and more than happy to answer the many tedious questions I threw at them.
Bonnie Gull: Oyster preparation
We started with an introduction to various oysters from a few locations around the UK. Dorset Blues, the lovely Porthilly, favoured by Nathan Outlaw, and the big Rock oysters from Carlingford. We were walked through the process of storing, opening, checking for freshness and, of course, tasting them. There's a bit of a knack to opening them, and getting hands on was a first for me. It felt quite an achievement opening up an oyster without completely brutalising it, and slurping down the little sucker.
Bonnie Gull: preparation of gravadlax (1)
One of the starters on the menu at Bonnie Gull is a delicious Loch Duart gravadlax and we were shown how to make it. Clearly good produce makes a difference here, but chef Luke explained some variables in the recipe like the thickness of the fish on the timing of the cure. The preparation was pretty straightforward, with mustard, dill and orange juice the main ingredients.
Bonnie Gull: preparation of gravadlax (2)
The finished dish, served with a tart little fennel salad and some toasts was a beautiful opener, particularly paired with a glass (OK, two) of Vire-clesse - a chardonnay from Burgundy.
Bonnie Gull: gravadlax
We moved on to some examples of filleting fish. Did you know, for example, that a hake's spine is horizontal rather than vertical? As a result, a hake requires a skilled hand to fillet it. Sea bass is a more regular shaped fish and we were shown how to scale and fillet the big sea bass, looking out for the pockets of little bones that can easily be missed.
Bonnie Gull: filleting fish (1)
Sadly we didn't get to eat the sea bass (one of my favourites), but I couldn't complain because we moved on to crabs!
Bonnie Gull: Filleting fish (2)
There was a drawer of crabs at Bonnie Gull, all gently dozing away due to the cold temperature. We learned how to identify male and female crabs, how to cook them and prepare them. The crabs were huge specimens from Devon. Look at the size of the claws! After they were cooked (roughly 10 minutes), chef Luke showed us how to break it down and painstakingly pick out the meat from all the nooks and crannies, while chef Gavin showed us how to prepare the brown meat from the shell the Bonnie Gull way. A bit of mustard, some chilli powder all gently whisked together and served back in the shell.
Bonnie Gull: crab preparation
The final product was a show stopper - served on a board with the big claws to crack open. It was so big though, I cheekily asked if we could take the rest of the claw meat home with us. I'm thinking of adding it to a congee. We drank a lightly chilled Italian red (Ruche di Castagnole Monferrato) with the crab, which was perfect.
Bonnie Gull: smash your own crab
Dessert was a simple but tasty 99-style soft-serve ice cream studded with frozen berries. I was stuffed and a bit merry by the time we stumbled out into Exmouth Market late in the afternoon.
Bonnie Gull: dessert
I started the year with a goal to learn more about food rather than just cooking and eating it. I've done a cheese making course via Neal's Yard and a lamb butchery class at the Ginger Pig (both highly recommended). It's important to realise that this is not a cooking class, with the only hands on being the oyster shucking, but I don't consider that a drawback. The Bonnie Gull seafood masterclass was a great addition to my knowledge of fish, crabs and oysters. I imagine the content will change with the seasons too meaning you could easily try it out a couple of times a year.

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