Food & Drink: Learn about seafood, thanks to Prawn On The Lawn cookbook

Rick and Katie Toogood.
Rick and Katie Toogood.
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The story of Prawn On The Lawn is one of constant ingenuity.

It started out as a tiny North London fishmonger and seafood bar; just eight seats, a fish counter and no fryer. “The idea was, you could have a glass of fizz and a few oysters while you bought your fish and it was being prepped,” explains Katie Toogood, who runs POTL with her husband, self-taught chef Rick.

Crispy red mullet with lemon and olive oil.

Crispy red mullet with lemon and olive oil.

The tricky bit was, they didn’t have a licence for hot food. “It forced us into doing something a bit more out there,” admits Rick, describing how their ever-changing menu revolved around curing, pickling, ceviche, oysters, and crab and lobster on ice. “Having all the fish on display, we just wanted to cook it. As a chef it became quite frustrating.”

Five years on, the pair have swapped their stripped-back fishmongers for two restaurants - one in London and one in Padstow, Cornwall – and now have their own self-titled cookbook, packed with ‘fish and seafood to share’.

They do seafood without sticking to rigid rules

They might have fryers at both locations now, but don’t expect to find them dishing out portions of salt and vinegar-covered cod. “We don’t do fish and chips,” says Katie, “[but] we could do you some crushed new potatoes and tempura battered white fish.”

Instead, they’re all about small, inventive sharing plates – swayed by whatever their Cornish fishermen have hauled in that day. Rick, who previously worked front of house for a string of high-end restaurants, had never been particularly interested in plodding through meals that predictably went: starter, main, dessert. “We loved the idea of sharing, it’s how we both grew up.” he says.

They also wanted to smash up the idea that seafood restaurants should being excruciatingly formal – it’s fiddly enough cracking crab claws without worrying about how smart your shirt is.

“When you go to Europe, seafood is so informal,” muses Katie. “It’s just stuff off a boat, and real basic cooking.”

When the pair met online (“It wasn’t on Plenty Of Fish,” says Katie with a laugh), she didn’t really eat meat and was “way more scared of fish”. Rick sorted that out.

While they’re all about keeping things simple, they’ve noticed that people are becoming more adventurous with their seafood. So much so, “people don’t even want cod if it’s on the menu, they’re like, ‘No, have you got any pollock?’” says Katie. Some do still need to be nudged to have their fish whole rather than filleted, though. “You just get so much flavour from the bones!”

- Prawn On The Lawn: Fish And Seafood To Share by Rick and Katie Toogood is published by Pavilion, priced £18.99.

How to make crispy red mullet with lemon and olive oil

“I had this very dish on the Greek island of Corfu, sat at plastic tables and chairs, looking across the bay with Katie and my parents,” says one half of Prawn On The Lawn team, chef Rick Toogood. “We all agreed that this dish was something special, both in flavour and simplicity. Whenever I eat it, I’m transported back to that trip.”

Here’s how to make it at home...

Ingredients: (Serves 4)

- Vegetable oil, for frying

- 4 red mullet, around 300g each, scaled and gutted (gurnard can be used as an alternative)

- Plain flour, for dusting

Sea salt, to taste

Lemon wedges, to serve

3-4tbsp extra-virgin olive oil and lemon dressing (see below)

Method:

1. Make the dressing, using the ratio: 70% extra-virgin olive oil (the best you can buy) and 30% freshly squeezed lemon juice. Whisk together and set aside.

2. A deep-fat fryer is the best thing to use for this recipe. If you don’t have one, heat vegetable oil in a frying pan large enough to fit the four fish. The oil needs to be deep enough to submerge half of the fish when laid on their sides. Bring the oil up to 190°C/375°F. Test the temperature by putting a cube of bread in the oil - if it immediately starts to crisp up, you’re ready to go.

3. Pat the fish dry with paper towels, then dust with flour, ensuring they are completely covered and any excess is shaken off. Carefully place the fish in the hot oil. Fry for four minutes on each side. Remove with a slotted spoon onto some paper towels to absorb any excess oil.

4. Transfer to a serving plate, sprinkle with sea salt and serve with lemon wedges and the dressing in a small bowl on the side.

- Prawn On The Lawn: Fish And Seafood To Share by Rick and Katie Toogood is published by Pavilion, priced £18.99. Available now.