WHEN we moved into The Three Chimneys, I inherited a commercial kitchen which included two large, deep fat fryers with their own high-powered electrical circuit and full of thick, glutinous, dark brown oil. They looked quite alarming to someone so inexperienced in the ways of cooking on a grand scale. Worse still, over the few months we lived in Skye before re-opening the restaurant to the public, I attempted to clean the fryers and replace the oil. For those who have never done this, I can assure you that the task is definitely one to avoid. Although I served every dish with the choice of chips or jacket potatoes, I was glad to move on into the realms of finer dining and eventually, ditch the fryers forever.

In the early years of catering in Scottish restaurants, deep-fried haddock and chips was a stock item on most menus. Cooked well, using fresh fillets, I adore fish and chips. However, this national dish gained a bad reputation, with frozen food companies taking over the supply of ready-to-fry packs of ingredients, usually from unidentifiable sources. Today, Scotland proudly boasts a wealth of top-quality fish and chip shops, serving delicious, nourishing food. Good batters for the fish, better oils and hand-cut chips made from Scottish potatoes, all add up to a more luxurious dish, which is loved by all.

Between the two world wars, fish and chips grew in popularity as a cheap, nourishing dish. Italian immigrant families, whom we now regard as our Scots-Italian cousins, were responsible for opening many local fish and chip shops, along with ice cream parlours. Fish and chips also became an essential feature of a seaside holiday and when I was a child, getting fish and chips for tea was a big treat. I associate it with a rare night off for Mum, when Dad was sent to the chippie while we put the plates to warm in the gas oven and opened a large can of peas to serve with the suppers when he got home.

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Today, we celebrate fish and chip shop owners for their contribution to the nation’s cuisine, with their work recognised in national competitions. Next Friday (June 2) is National Fish and Chip Day, so why not mark it with something a little different.

Scottish lobster is superb when cooked and eaten while very fresh. As a chef, I have cooked thousands of lobsters and while no two are ever the same, I have come to know a good one as soon as I crack it open. They vary, from male to female, at different times of the year. With experience, it is very easy to spot whether they have been freshly caught, or stored for any length of time along with many others, in a seawater tank or an underwater cage.

Advice on cooking

Cooking times depend upon weight and how many you want to put into the pan together. This depends upon how large a pan you have, but if you own a jam pan, for example, or an extra large stockpot, this can be ideal. Fill the pot with cold, salted water, to approximately ¾ full. Bring it to a fast rolling boil and plunge the live lobsters, head first, into the hot water. Cover the pot with a lid or sheet of foil and immediately bring the water back to boiling point. As soon as the lobster shell is turning bright red, and the lobster is starting to rise to the surface of the water, remove it using a large slotted spoon or similar, set aside to drain and cool, before cutting and preparing. The boiling process should take no longer than five minutes.

This recipe is easy to make, but for the best results, aim to get all the ingredients prepared and the chips ready to cook. I would not advise you to attempt this recipe for any more than four people, using two lobsters, at one serving.

Grilled Lobster

(Serves 2)

1 large, fresh Scottish lobster, approximately 700g-1kg in weight

2 level tbsp table salt per two pints of water for boiling the lobster

25g unsalted butter

1 large shallot

400ml fish stock

50ml dry vermouth

100ml fresh double cream

½ tsp Dijon mustard

1 tsp lemon juice

2 tsp finely chopped parsley

Freshly ground sea salt and pepper

50g finely grated Scottish Dunlop cheese, or similar creamy textured, mild and flavoursome, hard cheese

2 tbsp fine white breadcrumbs

Method

1. Cook the live lobster in boiling salted water as above and set aside to cool.

2. Remove the lobster claws and set aside. Cut the lobster in half, through its whole length, following the natural line through the carapace. Remove the intestinal tract from the tail and stomach sack just behind the eye. Do not remove the legs and antenna, which are decorative. Carefully lift the tail meat out of the lobster shell and set aside. Cut into bite-size pieces.

3. Scrape all the delicious white, foamy substance from inside the shell plus the creamy brown meat from the head area and set it aside in a small bowl. If the lobster has a green-black tomalley, also found in the head area, this is delicious added to the sauce and should be kept. Crack open the claws and remove the meat. Don’t forget to include the meat from the knuckles.

4. Set the half lobster shells on a foil-lined baking tray or grill pan. Distribute the lobster meat back into the empty shell, filling it from end to end generously.

5. Chop the shallot very finely.

6. Melt the butter in a wide saucepan, add the chopped shallots, season lightly and cook until soft.

7. Add stock and vermouth and bring to boiling point. Continue to cook on a medium heat until the liquid has reduced by half. Add lemon juice, mustard and cream. Stir gently. Add the soft debris you removed from inside the lobster shells, to the sauce mixture, including the tomalley if you have this. Stir gently to distribute evenly. Return to boiling point then lower heat to allow the sauce to simmer until it has thickened enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. The sauce will colour as it cooks. Just before serving, stir the chopped parsley through the sauce and check for seasoning.

8. Pour the sauce into a jug, then pour it carefully over the lobster meat. You are aiming to fill any gaps and coat the meat well.

9. Mix together the cheese and breadcrumbs and sprinkle these liberally all over the lobster and sauce.

10. Place the lobster under a low heat under the grill and let it cook slowly, to ensure that the dish has heated thoroughly, without over-cooking the lobster meat. Flash the dish under a higher heat to brown it, just before serving immediately with hot chips and a side salad.

Shirley Spear is owner of The Three Chimneys and The House Over-By on the Isle of Skye www.threechimneys.co.uk