“We can eat langoustines whenever we want,” says Fenella Renwick. “We’re lucky.” Renwick is at the Seafood Shack in Ullapool, on the north-west coast of Scotland, which she co-owns with Kirsty Scobie. It’s 9am, Scobie’s partner, a creel fisherman, has dropped off crab claws and langoustines, and they’re sketching out the day’s menu. Renwick thinks they should fry the langoustines in plenty of garlic butter, sprinkle over some thyme and serve them with a chunk of bread. “They’ll fly out,” she says. “People love them.”
“Fenella will have them for breakfast,” Scobie says, “straight out the pan.”
Planning the menu is how Renwick and Scobie start the day from April to November, when the Shack is open. They’ll order fish the night before, although they’re never quite sure what will be waiting for them. “We’ll take anything, any time,” says Scobie. “The food we make is quick and simple, not messing about with the produce too much.” Menus are short – six or seven dishes – but flexible enough that if their scallop supplier pops by and asks if they want any (the answer is always yes), they can be serving them in 20 minutes.
While they love being able to showcase the connection to their produce, weather or broken boats can limit supply. “Sometimes it can be stressful if all you’ve got is smoked trout and sweet-cured herring,” Scobie admits. Renwick shrugs: “That’s just the nature of it.”
Out-of-towners are keen on lobster served simply with herb butter, but for locals it’s more of a treat to have it in mac and cheese. There will usually be something in bread: either a fish finger sandwich with minty peas, or their biggest seller, tempura haddock wrap with lemon mayo and pesto.
They opened the Seafood Shack in 2016. Neither had worked in a professional kitchen before, but their partners were fishermen, so they had the right contacts. They wanted their own business, and had each other for encouragement as money was tight. “We thought we’d go for something we could just about afford,” Scobie says of the Shack, a catering unit in a small courtyard. “We wouldn’t want to change it now.”
Their instincts paid off. They serve up to 300 people a day – mainly tourists in the high summer, with loyal locals propping up the beginning and end of the season. This year has been especially busy: “Everyone has wanted a Highland holiday.”
Seasonal work is common in the Highlands: people know they have to get the hours in while it’s warm and light. To fill time in the winter months, Renwick and Scobie decided to write a book. They wanted to show that anyone can cook seafood, and to share some of the stories of the fishermen they work with, who are important to the local economy and happy to see some of their catch stay in Ullapool. “They were never not going to be in the book,” says Scobie. “Though I’m not sure they enjoyed getting their photos taken.”
Scobie and Renwick have adopted the same approach to writing The Seafood Shack: Food & Tales from Ullapool as they did to starting the Shack itself: make it happen. They approached publishers whose books they enjoyed, and tested domestic versions of their recipes. Initially they found it hard to scale down everything and be precise (“We just usually throw things in,” says Scobie), but they knew it could work. “Everything that we do gets cooked as you would do it at home, we don’t refresh vegetables or any of that.”
They hope their story will inspire others to start their own businesses. “We’ve had so many people phone us about starting their own shacks,” says Scobie. Rather than be threatened by competition, they’re thrilled. “We want people to sell and eat more seafood,” says Renwick. “It’s cool to be able to help.”
Mussels in a creamy white wine and garlic sauce
We think most people love the mussels mainly for the sauce. That’s why we always make sure there’s lots of it. And some chunky bread to soak it all up.
white onion 1, diced
garlic 2 cloves, chopped
vegetable stock cube ½
lemon juice of ½
mussels 2kg, cleaned
white wine 300ml
double cream 200ml
curly parsley a small handful, chopped
black pepper plenty
Put a large saucepan over a medium heat and add the butter, onion and garlic. Fry off for about 10 minutes until everything is lovely and soft. Crumble in the vegetable stock cube and add the lemon juice.
Increase the heat, throw in the mussels and the wine and put the lid on the pan. The wine will make steam and start to cook the mussels. Once the mussels are nearly all open (about 2 or 3 minutes) turn the temperature down to low and add the double cream, parsley and black pepper. Slowly bring up the temperature until the sauce starts to bubble – be careful when adding the cream as if it’s too hot it can split. Once the mussels are all open, they are ready – don’t leave them on the heat as they will overcook and go rubbery. Discard any that stubbornly refuse to open.
Serve with a wedge of lemon and lots of crusty bread (and not forgetting more butter).
Smoked haddock, pea and chorizo macaroni cheese
If you feel like jazzing up your mac and cheese, try this. The smoked haddock and chorizo give it an amazing flavour and the peas freshen it up. And it’s a great way to get your kids to eat more fish. Smoked trout works really well as an alternative.
onion 1, finely chopped
garlic 1 clove, finely chopped
red chilli ½, finely chopped
vegetable stock cube 1
plain flour 3 heaped tbsp
full fat milk 600ml
cheddar cheese 300g, grated
curly parsley a small handful, chopped
salt and black pepper
chorizo 100g, chopped into chunks
smoked haddock 3 fillets, chopped into chunks
fresh or frozen peas 150g
fresh chives a small handful, chopped
Put a large saucepan on a medium heat and add the butter, onion, garlic and chilli, then let it all sweat off for a good 8-10 minutes until everything is nice and soft and very sweet. Make sure you keep stirring so nothing burns. Crumble in the stock cube along with plenty of black pepper, and fry off for another minute before adding the flour. Cook for a minute or two to make a roux, then slowly add the milk, whisking all the time as you don’t want it to be lumpy. Cook on a low heat until the sauce has thickened, then take it off the heat and add the grated cheese. Stir until the cheese has melted into the sauce, add the parsley and season.
Put a large pan filled with water on a high heat and bring to the boil. Cook the macaroni for 6-7 minutes – it will keep cooking after you drain it so you want it to be al dente – and drain in a colander. Heat a small frying pan and add the chopped chorizo – you don’t need to add any oil as the chorizo will release plenty as it heats up. You want to get it nice and crispy so fry it off for a few minutes on a high heat, stirring and reducing the heat if it starts to burn. Keep a few pieces of chorizo aside to garnish your dish at the end. Add the smoked haddock and the peas to the remaining chorizo in the frying pan and cook until the haddock starts to flake. Stir the contents of the pan into the cheese sauce and mix in the pasta. You might need to give everything another quick blast of heat. Garnish with the reserved chorizo pieces and a sprinkle of chopped chives and serve.
TIP Cooking times can be different for different pasta brands so look at the packet and take off two minutes from the suggested time to make sure it doesn’t overcook.
Fish finger sandwich with minty pea puree and tartare sauce
If you have your peas and tartare sauce made beforehand, then this is a great thing to knock up for a quick dinner. You don’t need to use haddock, any white fish will do, just make sure you adjust the cooking time according to how thick it is.
For the minty pea puree
frozen petits pois 400g
mint leaves a handful
lemon juice 1 tbsp
salt and pepper
vegetable oil for deep frying
For the tartare sauce
gherkins 2 small
shallot 1, chopped
capers 2 tbsp
English mustard ½ tsp
horseradish sauce 1 tsp
lemon juice a squeeze
For the fish fingers
haddock 2 large fillets (about 400-450g)
plain flour 50g
eggs 2 large, beaten
breadcrumbs (see below)
good quality bread 8 slices
tartare sauce (see above)
salad for garnishing
For the breadcrumbs
white bread 3 slices
fresh herbs a handful, finely chopped (we use parsley and dill)
To make the minty pea puree, put a pan of boiling water on to cook your peas. When it’s boiling add your peas and cook for three minutes until just tender – it’s very important you don’t overcook them as they’ll lose their bright green colour and fresh taste. Drain the peas and let them steam dry for a minute, then pop them in your food processor with your mint, lemon juice and salt and pepper. Whizz up until you have a course purée.
To make the tartare sauce, put all your ingredients in a food processor and whizz until it’s the consistency you like (we like it a bit chunky). Taste and add extra of anything you like to suit your taste buds.
First, make your breadcrumbs. Simply put the bread and chopped herbs into a food processor and whizz until you have fine crumbs.
Divide each haddock fillet into four equal goujons so you have eight small fillets altogether. Put your plain flour in a bowl, your beaten eggs in another and your breadcrumbs in a third, and season each bowl. Dip your haddock goujons into the flour, then the eggs and then the breadcrumbs, making sure you coat them completely at each stage. Lay your now breadcrumbed goujons out on a plate and set aside.
When you’re nearly ready to eat, heat the vegetable oil to 180C in a large pan or deep fat fryer. You must have enough room in your pan to submerge at least one goujon of haddock. Carefully slide a few of your goujons at a time into the hot oil and make sure they don’t stick together by giving the fryer/pan a shake or mixing them with a metal spoon. Fry for two to three minutes until they are golden brown; haddock is a thin fish so it really doesn’t take long to cook. Drain on some kitchen roll and repeat with the remaining fish. Toast the bread slices in a toaster or under the grill and then you can assemble your sandwich!
We spread on some minty pea purée, top with a couple of fish goujons, then some tartare sauce and a handful of salad. Serve with some red cabbage slaw alongside.
TIP Use good quality peas in your minty pea purée as this makes all the difference.
Creamy crab linguine
This is a lovely way to turn crab into a main meal. You can use white crab meat on its own, or if you prefer a richer flavour use a mixture of white and brown. Either way it’s delicious. If you’ve got any of our chilli, paprika and lime butter, use it to fry off the shallots – we always do!
vegetable or rapeseed oil a splash
butter 50g, or the chilli, paprika and lime butter (see right)
shallots 4 , sliced
spring onions 6 , thinly sliced
garlic 2 cloves, chopped
red chilli ½, chopped
vegetable stock cube 1
fish stock cube ½ (optional)
white wine a good glug
creme fraiche 1 heaped tbsp
double cream 150ml
lime 1, zested and then halved
fresh white crab meat 300g (or a mixture of white and brown)
parsley a small handful, chopped
salt and pepper
parmesan 100g, grated
rocket salad 4 handfuls
For the chilli, paprika and lime butter
chilli 1 small, finely chopped
smoked paprika ½ tsp
lime juice and zest of ½
Before making the chilli butter, leave the 250g of butter out in a warm room for a few hours to soften or heat it in a microwave until soft. You don’t want it to melt – you should just be able to make an indent with your finger.
In a bowl, mix the chilli, smoked paprika and lime juice and zest into the butter with a wooden spoon. We always season our butters with just a little amount of salt and some cracked black pepper.
Cut a piece of clingfilm about the size of an A3 sheet of paper. Lie this out flat on your worktop and spoon the butter mixture across the middle in a horizontal line, leaving about a hand space on either side. Now hold the corners of the clingfilm closest to you and fold over the butter, run your hands along the butter to the edges to smooth out and remove any air holes. Twist the clingfilm at either end and gently roll your butter to form a good cylinder shape. Perfect for storing in the fridge or freezer.
To make the crab linguine, heat a frying pan on a medium heat and add a splash of oil and the 50g of butter. Let the butter melt and then stir in the shallots, spring onions, garlic and chilli. Sweat them for around 10 minutes until the onions are soft; the longer you cook them the tastier your finished dish will be. Crumble in the stock cube and cook off until it dissolves into the onions.
Add the white wine, creme fraiche, cream and lime zest, then chuck in the lime halves and simmer on a medium heat for around 5 minutes. Stir in the crab meat and parsley.
In a separate pot, boil the linguine for 6-7 minutes – you don’t want to overcook it as it will keep cooking when you add it to the sauce. Give your pasta a stir halfway through to make sure it isn’t sticking together. When it is cooked, drain in a colander, leaving a small amount of cooking water in with the pasta so it doesn’t get sticky. Don’t rinse the pasta, as you want to keep the starch to thicken the sauce.
Reduce the heat under the sauce and gently toss in the pasta, making sure each strand of linguine is coated in sauce and crab. Taste to check for seasoning and add a dash more cream if you want.
Once dished up, sprinkle freshly grated parmesan on top and add a handful of fresh rocket. Serve with a wedge of lime.