The Inspiring North Devon Coast – and how to make delicious homemade fish and chips!

During the years I lived in London it wasn’t easy to convince my husband we should see more of England. A born and bred Londoner, he couldn’t see the appeal of travelling around England. “I thought you wanted to see Europe,” he would say. And of course I did, but there was also much of England I wanted to see. Fortunately I did manage to get him out and about in his own country, perhaps more so on trips we’ve made back to the UK since our move to New Zealand.

England really is a beautiful country. I love to drive, cruising from one beautifully quaint village to the next, stopping at pubs that are perhaps centuries older than myself and then continuing on to drive through stretches of the most stunning countryside.

But one of my favourite parts of the country would have to be Cornwall and Devon. There is a special place in my heart for North Devon in particular because it is where I set my first novel (or part of it).

You may well have heard stories of how writers see visions of a character or a place and then have an overwhelming desire to write about it. I know it sounds corny but it actually does happen. When I made the decision to try writing my first novel I thought long and hard about characters and places and storylines. But there was one recurring image in my head – a woman with wild red hair, standing alone on a vast beach, staring out to sea. The image in my mind did not suggest summer at the seaside but more an off-season time of the year, perhaps late autumn. I pictured the woman wrapped up in a winter coat, her big hair being whipped about her face by the wind. At the far end of the beach, a tall man stood on the rocks, watching her.

My book “Can’t Hurry Love” tells the story of Sadie who is left heartbroken at the age of eighteen after a brief but passionate affair with an older man ends badly. Twelve years later she moves to a small seaside village on the North Devon coast and meets up with Rhys again who, by pure chance, is staying in the same village.

When I started writing this part of the story I scoured the Internet looking for the perfect seaside village. I settled on Croyde. It was perfect. The photographs online showed a picturesque English village with thatched-roof cottages, a pub full of character that was the hub of the village and a large golden-sanded beach. Croyde Bay lies between the headland of Baggy Point to the north and Saunton Down to the south. When facing north you have a perfect view of the hills beyond the village where you can walk the track up to Baggy Point. It’s well worth the walk. The views from the point are spectacular.

After I had finished the book – and fortunately while I was still in the editing process – my husband and I were holidaying in the UK. I asked if we could take a trip to Croyde so I could see it and experience the place for myself. My husband thought it was a great idea and also loves that part of the country. So we set off a couple of days later. What a great decision!

When we arrived in Croyde it was everything I’d imagined from the photographs and more. We ate in the village pub, pigged out on Devonshire teas, took leisurely walks and admired the charming cottages with their proud chimneys and thatched roofs. We made the walk up to Baggy Point and enjoyed the spectacular view. Most importantly, I was able to stand on that stretch of golden sand and look out to sea just as Sadie does. I was also able to climb onto the rocks where Rhys stands as he watches her.

I went straight back to our room, fired up my laptop and started making changes to what I’d originally written so that I could enrich Rhys and Sadie’s rocky reunion with all the atmosphere and impressions that had come from having experienced the place for myself.

I’m very proud of Can’t Hurry Love. If you’d like to read a preview I’ve provided a link below. And if you’d like to keep reading and find out exactly what Rhys is thinking as he stands on the rocks and watches Sadie, then it’s available on Amazon!

Can’t Hurry Love

I did touch on this in an earlier blog but my trip to Croyde is another example of the flavour that is added to a story when the author has seen or experienced firsthand what the characters see and experience. Of course it’s not always possible and often novels are a mixture of firsthand experiences and what the author has researched and learned. But I’m grateful that Croyde was able to fall under the former rather than the latter – it almost feels like an extra character in the story. The village, indeed North Devon in its entirety, left such an impression on me that I now feel quite drawn to the place. I hope I can return soon.

So if you are planning a tour of England think about adding Devon to your itinerary. It is such a beautiful and charming part of the country and so quintessentially English.

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When deciding on the recipe I wanted for this blog I thought back to what we ate while we were in North Devon. Devonshire teas, naturally. But surely a trip to the seaside is not complete without also indulging in the freshest of fish and chips?

It is one of those classic combinations that will surely never fall out of favour. Indeed I remember it being a staple of my childhood – Thursday nights my Dad would usually arrive home with fish and chips. Of course back in those days (oh dear!) it was the only real takeaway on offer. But we always looked forward to it and it was a night off for Mum – where’s the downside?

Homemade fish and chips are delicious and well worth the effort. Mind you, having said “effort” there really isn’t much to it.

I always make the smaller fish bites because my husband and I had the most delicious fish bites while on our honeymoon in Rarotonga years ago and I’ve been making them ever since.

I realise tartare sauce is easy enough to buy in a jar but the homemade version is simple, quick and so fresh and sharp with the gherkins and capers.

Mushy peas are of course optional. You don’t need these as an accompaniment. For me it completes the traditional perfection of fish and chips, but a crisp salad would work just as well – or neither if you’d rather not bother. A wedge of lemon to spritz over the fish bites would suffice.

You’ll see below I’ve specified panko breadcrumbs because I think they add extra golden crispiness, but if you only have plain breadcrumbs these are also fine to use.

For the chips, try and get hold of Agria potatoes. These are the best to use because they crisp up so well in the oven.

So here goes. Try it. You won’t be disappointed.

 

Fish Bites and Chips with Mushy Peas and Homemade Tartare Sauce

Serves 4

 

Fish Bites

600g fresh white fish (snapper, gurnard or blue cod is good here)

100g plain white flour

2 eggs, beaten

150g panko breadcrumbs

Olive oil for frying

Chips

900g Agria potatoes

Olive oil

Salt

Tartare Sauce

½ cup mayonnaise

2 tsp Dijon mustard

2 good-sized gherkins, chopped finely

1½ tbsp capers

1-2 tbsp lemon juice

Few sprigs of dill, finely chopped

Mushy Peas

400g frozen minted baby peas

250ml chicken stock (optional – you could just use water)

250ml water

30g butter

Squeeze of lemon juice

Salt and pepper

 

Heat the oven to 220°C.

I always start with the tartare sauce because then I can pop it in the fridge and forget about it. So spoon the mayonnaise into a bowl, add all the other ingredients (just 1 tbsp of lemon juice to begin with) and stir well to combine. Have a quick taste. You may want it a little sharper with more lemon juice. If it is too sharp for your liking just add a small spoonful of mayonnaise to balance it out. Now cling film the bowl and put it in the fridge until you’re ready to serve.

Peel the potatoes, rinse them under cold water and then cut into batons – about 1cm in width and 5-6cm in length. Arrange the batons in a large shallow oven dish that you’ve lined with baking paper. Drizzle olive oil over the potatoes, sprinkle with salt and then mix together with your hands so that each piece of potato is covered with the oil and salt. Pop the tray into the pre-heated oven. They will take about 40 minutes to cook and I would turn them over halfway through. Ovens differ so keep an eye on them but you’ll see when they start to crisp up nicely.

For the fish bites, use three separate plates for the flour, eggs and breadcrumbs. I like to use a dinner plate for the flour and breadcrumbs and then a large dessert plate for the eggs. Season the flour with salt and pepper and stir through.

Cut the fish up into longish pieces, about 5-6cm in length. Dip first in the flour, then the egg. Make sure the piece of fish is completely immersed and then roll in the breadcrumbs. Put the fish bite on a plate while you get on with the rest.

Put a large frying pan on the hob and bring to a medium heat.

Before you start cooking the fish make a start on the peas. Bring the chicken stock and water to the boil and add the peas. Simmer until just cooked – this should only take a few minutes.

While the peas are cooking you can get on with cooking your fish. Add olive oil to the heated pan – you want a thin layer covering the base of the pan. Add the fish bites one by one.

Cook on each side until they’re golden and crispy and the fish is opaque throughout (you might want to put a knife through one and have a peek to check). The fish cooks quite quickly. It should only take a few minutes per side so watch it carefully. I like to leave them on a plate lined with a piece of kitchen paper for a minute once they’re cooked.

Drain the peas, add the butter and seasoning and the lemon juice and whizz into a nubbly paste. You can use a stick blender or a food processor. Or you could mash them with a fork by hand if you wanted to. The texture would be more rustic but there’s no problem with that.

Place a few fish bites on each plate with a handful of chips, a good spoonful of mushy peas and a large dollop of tartare. Serve with wedges of lemon for spritzing.

Now eat!

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2 Comments

  1. Frances says:

    I am hooked now Tracey my
    Mum was Devonian and came from
    south Devon – Colytton 😊 Before we emigrated Ed and I holidayed in North Devon and was based at Croyde. Again over my lunch you babe transported me to a place of fond memories and a few tears thinking of my lovely mum. Well done awesome writing as always 💖

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Clare Hatfield says:

    I made Tracey’s seafood linguine last week & it was delicious. This is especially interesting as i don’t really cook, i assemble!! I found the recipe easy & the whole family loved it. I cannot wait to make fish & chips at the weekend. I do believe i’m becoming a lady who can cook 😳😄😝

    Liked by 1 person

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