Laugharne, Saundersfoot, Waterwynch, Tenby, Manorbier, Caldey Island, Stackpole Quay, Barafundle Bay, St David’s … names redolent of the Pembrokeshire coast of Wales.
Coastlines are fascinating spaces. The combination of liminal land, shifting sands, and variable weather they experience, parallel our cultural existence.
Fluctuating and evolving.
Changing … yet remaining somehow eternal in the face of change too; solid, like the rocks that rear up out of the sea.
The southern Wales coastline is much underrated. That’s a sad mistake in my view. We’re encouraged to see it as out on a limb, when through history it has been central to the story of these islands.
As southern England slept the sleep of the Dark Ages, here the fusion of Celtic and Romano British culture thrived, with writers like Gildas in the early 6th century writing The Fall and Conquest of Britain in polished, elegant and precise Latin. Written partly as a paean to the departing legions, it was also an exemplar to the local Celtic nobility filling the void the Romans left, and was intended to galvanise them against the approaching Saxon threat.
It was also at this time, long before St Augustine’s mission to England towards the end of the 6th century to convert the ‘heathens’, that St David’s was founded as a Cathedral. St Catherine’s Island off Tenby had a chapel dedicated to the saint of spinners and weavers at about the same time. Numerous holy places named for Saints not recognised by the Church in Rome, but known to the Welsh and Irish, flourished and testify to a thriving pre-existing Christian tradition. The sanction of the church in Rome or any other ‘higher’ external authority was not sought here. But neither was this an insular, backward place.
Today St David’s has a woman Bishop, the first in these islands. Trade and culture are as entwined with Ireland or Western Europe today as they once were when this was one of the centres of the Celtic world.
Southern Wales’ supposedly ‘grimy’ quality could not be further from the truth.
Which brings me to food …
Anyone familiar with this blog knows about my obsessions – food, art, history, culture, social anthropology …
Food preserves the traces of cultures and interactions better than anything else. Along the Pembrokeshire coast it’s no different.
In this coastal region, wild fish and seafood predominates alongside extensive dairy production. Beef, Poultry and Pork follow closely alongside a simple but satisfyingly diverse range of vegetables and herbs which grow profusely in the gentle Atlantic Gulf Stream climate.
- The growing season here is longer than in most parts on the UK
- The distance from field to fork less than in most parts of the country
- A long-standing Italian population has established a tradition of ice cream making and delicatessen which matches anything available in London
- The supply chains for supermarkets and their heavily centralised systems, too long to sustain a large scale presence
- What might seem a curse in a city like London is, here, a blessing …
Independent and highly localised trade predominates and helps sustain a demotic food culture.
This being South Wales, there was less Lamb than people might expect of Wales. Lamb husbandry takes place mainly in central and North Wales, where the upland pasture is used to provide a long feeding season for the animals and where land is cheaper.
Lamb is available of course. It’s part of the mix of long-standing trade connections with North West France, Spain and the Mediterranean, which creates a richly varied cuisine, augmented by small scale brewing and distilleries.
The ingredients are in place …
I made gorgeous fresh, sweet scallops while in Tenby and combined them with Chorizo. It’s an amazing combination of flavour and texture, and was offset with a mild, elegant, green pea puree. The Chorizo was sparingly used, allowing the delicate flavour of the scallops and the pea puree to shine – a golden rule for a marvellous result.
Here goes …
- I used around 35 g of Chorizo, cubed (keep them tiny so they crunch up when cooked) – these I then fried in a griddle pan with a tiny amount of olive oil (the fat in Chorizo is released as it cooks so you really don’t need much)
- 10 scallops (5 each) seemed plenty. I washed these, and then rubbed gently with olive oil and fresh ground black pepper before setting them aside for a couple of hours
- I took around 150g of freshly shelled peas (you can use frozen, but nothing beats fresh as we had it) and placed in a pot of salted boiling water along with a fat, fresh, clove of generous garlic (skin on) for around 2 – 3 minutes
- Then I drained the peas, setting aside a little water for later (and taking out the garlic and setting that aside too) …
I then treated myself to a sip of Picpoul de Pinet from the sun baked limestone plateau between Agde, Pézenas and Sète in the Languedoc region of southern France (between Montpellier and Narbonne).
Bone dry, Picpoul is usually crystal clear with green highlights perfect to pair with seafood. Older vines can create a golden hued wine which I find is usually better with cheese. It’s a soft wine, delicate on the nose, with hints of fresh ‘green’ blossom with a an excellent acid/structure balance.
I digress – Back to the recipe …
Now that the garlic had cooled, I peeled it easily, half squeezing the soft, buttery garlic out into a bowl the process. I added the warm peas and a couple of table spoons of the water they cooked in, and then added a table spoon of salted butter and a teaspoon of olive oil. I then mashed the lot, mixing as I mashed to create an unctuous green mess. I tasted it and felt it needed a little black pepper and a touch of salt so added these – it’s really up to you. I did so because I wanted a certain sharpness to cut through the smoky Chorizo and the buttery/creamy sweetness of the scallops.
Before cooking the scallops I roughly wiped down the pan I had cooked the Chorizo in – I wanted some of the flavour to remain, just not too much. To aid cooking the scallops I added a table spoon of olive oil and heated the pan up on a high heat, and then popped the scallops on for just under a minute. I then took the scallops off the pan – they mustn’t stay in a hot pan as they’ll just get rubbery if overcooked – they should be soft and yielding.
- With a tablespoon I popped a couple of generous blobs of pea puree on each plate, and with the back of the spoon, smeared them into a ‘swish’
- On top, I plonked 5 scallops and then the crispy, smoky Chorizo cubes with a little of the oil they had released …
- Now, this is optional, but I think it works – I then took a fat red chilli of the kind you often see in Spain or Italy. These are usually less hot. They’re also grown in Pembrokeshire under glass. I sliced one chilli thinly and diagonally, adding two or three slices to each plate atop the scallops.
By sheer luck I also got some pea shoots with the fresh peas I had bought that day, so I added these as a garnish along with some finely chopped and flavoursome Parsley.
I have no picture of the results – they didn’t last long enough!
After dinner we headed a couple of streets along to Fecci for amazing ice cream and then took a walk along the cliffs to the South Beach at sunset, finishing the evening with a gorgeous locally produced Gin (whose name I carelessly forgot!) – infused with orange peel, rosemary and herbs along with the traditional juniper, cardamom, coriander, etc., this was an aromatic and heady finish to the day.
A bit about Tenby
A perfect base from which to explore the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path and the many beaches that dot this area, Tenby is a pretty but unpretentious town settled stop cliffs and facing South East across a wide bay towards the Gower Peninsula.
Tenby isn’t spoilt. It’s no Whitstable or Southwold. Rich or poor, everyone eats great fish and chips and ice cream – readily available and high quality from several outlets (Fecci do both, and Pipers majors on Fish and Chips). Four Seasons is a brilliant greengrocer on Upper Park Street and there’s a good butcher, super Crab sandwiches, and great Malyasian street food in the main Market Hall.
There are some high end restaurants – but again, these aren’t fussy or over-priced. It’s not the sort of place that wants or needs a Rick Stein. It’s happy as it is, and it’s rather lovely for it.
Go – but respect it for what it is. It’s been here longer than you or me, and it will be around for a while yet.
Oh – and one small thing.
The Sunday Times’ Great British Beach Guide named Tenby as having the UK’s beat beach (Castle Beach).
For me, South Beach was just as good and less busy – Waterwynch Bay was a dream, Carew likewise, Saundersfoot, Manorbier, Barrafundle, Laugharne (Llaregub to those in the know – see this) …
It’s a long list of delightful places that you should make the time to see.