Nathan Outlaw fell hook, line and sinker for fish during his childhood.
Growing up in Maidstone, Kent, he spent weekends on the beaches of the South East coast, watching his granddad tuck into jellied eels, and going sea-fishing off piers.
After catering college and a spell at a London hotel, he was keen to indulge his passion for creatures of the deep (and shallows!) and moved to Cornwall to work at Rick Stein’s celebrated Seafood Restaurant in Padstow.
He now has a handful of restaurants to his name - two in Rock (one of which, Restaurant Nathan Outlaw, has two Michelin stars), one in Port Isaac (Outlaw’s Fish Kitchen) and a consultancy in London at The Capital Hotel.
He’s also written two books about fish - the second of which, Nathan Outlaw’s Fish Kitchen, was published this month - but his enthusiasm shows no signs of waning.
“I have nothing against meat, I enjoy cooking that as well, but for me, the actual subject of seafood is fantastic,” says the 36-year-old, whose father Clive is also a chef.
“I’m quite friendly with a lot of fishermen, and they fascinate me, I could just listen to their stories forever. And the actual industry itself, with the sustainability and all that side of things, I love it.”
Despite being an island nation, we lack confidence when it comes to cooking fish, he says.
“The biggest thing that I always tell people is, don’t cook your fish until you’ve got everything else ready,” he advises.
“Have all your vegetables cooked, your sauce, all that will take much longer than a piece of fish. Most pieces of fish will cook much quicker than a microwave meal. In three or four minutes, it’s cooked.”
And don’t be put off if your first attempt fails.
“It’s practise, practise, practise. The more you cook fish and the more you handle fish, the better you’re going to get at it.”
Outlaw met his wife, Rachel, when she was working as a waitress at Stein’s restaurant. They married 13 years ago and have two children, Jacob, 11, and Jessica, nine.
“My wife is Cornish, my kids are Cornish, the dog’s Cornish - I’m the only outsider!” he says.
Home, in the village of St Minver near Rock, sounds pretty idyllic.
“I can just see the sea from my house if I stand on my tiptoes,” says Outlaw. “It’s about five minutes from any of the beaches.”
Not that he has much time for lounging.
“I’m lucky that I’ve got a wife who’s understanding and comes from the industry. Because if my wife wasn’t from the industry, she probably wouldn’t be my wife any more,” he says, laughing.
“I do work all the time. But I don’t ever really feel like it’s a job, so it’s never been an issue.”
Fancy some fish? Here are three recipes from Outlaw’s new book for you to try at home...
:: BAKED WHOLE PLAICE AND CIDER ONIONS WITH TARRAGON AND ANCHOVY BUTTER
1 plaice, at least 1kg, gutted
50ml olive oil
2 white onions, peeled and finely sliced
2 bay leaves
200ml dry cider
Sea salt (Outlaw recommends Cornish sea salt) and freshly ground black pepper
For the tarragon and anchovy butter:
200g unsalted butter, softened
Bunch of tarragon, leaves only
2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
4 salted anchovy fillets, chopped
Lemon wedges to serve
Salt and pepper
Heat your oven to 220C/Gas Mark 7.
For the tarragon and anchovy butter, put the softened butter into a bowl. Chop the tarragon and add to the butter with the chopped shallots and anchovies. Mix well until evenly combined and season with pepper, and a little salt if needed, to taste. Shape the butter into a roll on a sheet of cling film, wrap in the film and twist and tie the ends to seal. Refrigerate to firm up.
Put the olive oil, onions and bay leaves in a roasting tray, pour on the cider and cook in the oven for 20 minutes.
Season the plaice all over with salt and pepper. Take the roasting tray from the oven and lay the fish on top of the onions. Put the tray back in the oven and cook for 12-15 minutes, or until the plaice is just cooked.
Meanwhile, unwrap and slice the butter. To check the fish is cooked, make an incision into the thickest part and see if the flesh is pulling away from the bone.
Lay the sliced butter on top of the fish and pop the tray back into the oven for two minutes.
Serve the plaice simply with the cider onions and lemon wedges.
:: SALMON POACHED IN TARRAGON VINEGAR WITH CARROTS IN BROWN BUTTER
4 portions of salmon fillet, about 200g each, pin-boned
2 carrots, peeled
200ml white wine
200ml white wine vinegar
50g caster sugar
10 tarragon sprigs
For the carrots in brown butter:
250g salted butter
8 small carrots, peeled and halved lengthways, or 24 baby carrots
1 garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped
2tsp chopped tarragon
Cut the carrots lengthways into fine ribbons, using a vegetable peeler or mandoline. Pour the wine, wine vinegar and water into a saucepan and add the sugar, a pinch of salt, the carrot ribbons and tarragon sprigs. Bring to the boil, lower the heat and simmer for two minutes. Take off the heat and leave to infuse for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, for the brown butter, heat the butter in a pan over a medium-low heat until melted and starting to bubble. At this stage, lower the heat and continue to cook until the butter turns brown and has a nutty aroma; don’t let it burn. Immediately remove from the heat and strain through a muslin-lined sieve into a bowl.
Add the halved or whole baby carrots to a pan containing enough cold water to just cover them and add some salt. Bring to the boil, lower the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes, until the carrots are almost cooked. Drain and return them to the pan. Add 50ml of the brown butter with the chopped garlic and warm through over a low heat. Season with salt to taste and remove from the heat.
Drain the carrot ribbons, reserving the liquor; set aside.
To cook the salmon, bring the reserved liquor to a simmer in a fairly wide pan and add the fish fillets, making sure they are fully submerged. Remove the pan from the heat, cover and leave to stand for 10 minutes; the fish will cook in the residual heat. To check the fish is done, carefully lift out a portion and insert a small knife into the thickest point, hold it there for five seconds and then place it against the back of your wrist; it should feel warm, not cold or hot.
Once the fish is ready, for the dressing, combine 75ml of the poaching liquor (reserved from earlier) with 150ml brown butter, warm through and add the chopped tarragon. Place a portion of salmon on each warm plate. Divide the carrot ribbons and brown butter carrots between the plates and spoon the dressing over the fish and carrots to serve.
:: RAW BASS WITH ANCHOVY, MINT AND CORIANDER DRESSING
(Serves 6 as a starter)
1 bass, about 2kg, scaled and gutted
36 anchovy fillets in oil, drained
1 garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1tsp flat-leaf parsley, chopped
About 50ml light rapeseed oil
For the anchovy, mint and coriander dressing:
3 anchovy fillets in oil, drained
25ml lime juice
50g coriander leaves
50g mint leaves
About 150ml light rapeseed oil
Fillet and skin the bass, then freeze overnight.
Put the 36 anchovy fillets into a bowl or jar, sprinkle over the garlic, lemon zest and parsley and then drizzle with the rapeseed oil. Leave to marinate for at least two hours. (You can prepare the anchovies to this stage, cover and leave them to marinate for up to three days if you wish.)
Allow the bass to thaw slightly until you can slice it, then slice very thinly.
For the dressing, put the other three anchovy fillets into a small food processor with the lime juice, coriander and mint, and blend for one minute. With the motor running, gradually add enough rapeseed oil to give the consistency of a thick pesto dressing. Season with salt to taste.
Lay the bass slices out on a large plate, season lightly with salt and arrange the marinated anchovies on top. Dress the fish with the herb and anchovy dressing and leave to stand for 30 minutes before serving.
:: Nathan Outlaw’s Fish Kitchen by Nathan Outlaw is published by Quadrille, priced £20. Available now