Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Shark Attacks In British Waters

My new book Shark Attacks In British Waters is finally out. It's a bit of a departure from my usual food ramblings, but I fancied writing something different, and it was great fun researching it; I found some great stories along the way...

It came about from a drunken evening at a fishermen’s club in Hastings, East Sussex. A friend bet me £100 that there had never been a shark attack in British waters. I decided to take him up on the wager and this book is the result of that bet.

In the book, you’ll read about the mysterious death of a teacher who vanished while bathing off the Yorkshire coast. His inquest heard his left shoulder had almost been wrenched off by a “powerful animal” and there were other bite marks across his body. You’ll also meet the swimmer reportedly chased by a 12ft shark at Brighton beach. When they cut open the shark’s belly, they found a human head inside.

There were also three reported attacks on bathers in the chilly waters of Edinburgh. Not to mention the case of the man who lost a leg while swimming in Wales. The police constable who staggered on to the beach, bleeding from bite marks. The crab fisherman who brawled with a shark in waist-deep water in Norfolk. And the woman bitten in half in Belfast Harbour.

These are just some of the reported shark incidents I found while trawling through the British Library’s newspaper archives and other sources. Some happened centuries ago, some were a lot more recent.

There were also numerous sightings – and in a few cases alleged captures – of great white sharks in UK seas. Many were from Victorian times and earlier – which may throw light on some of the reported attacks on British bathers in those times. Some fishermen think there are still white sharks living in UK seas. The debate still rages. And not a summer goes by without a story of that most fabled of sharks off Cornwall.

Other species, including the basking shark and thresher shark, have reportedly attacked boats. The worst case was a triple drowning in the Firth of Clyde in southwest Scotland when a shark capsized a wooden sailing dinghy. Two men and a young boy died. Other attacks were reported and the “basking shark menace” was raised in Parliament.

Fishermen were afraid to go out on their boats and there were calls for the Navy to be brought in to blow up the sharks. Some claimed the attacks were the work of a rogue basking shark, said to be 40ft long. Others believed it was a species not found in Scottish waters. They gave it the name “Man-Eater”.

All the shark encounters took place as described in contemporary newspaper reports and other historic sources. To reconstruct the events that took place in each incident, I have interviewed marine biologists and ichthyologists, and quoted current scientific papers to get an understanding of the shark’s actions and what species of fish may have been involved.

The book is a history of reported British shark attacks, presented in chronological order from the late 1700s to the present day. It is worth adding that there were probably shark attacks in British seas before the 18th century, but none have been recorded by history.

The book is available as an ebook on Kindle HERE - it is free to download today (11 June 2019) and tomorrow, so please tell anyone you think who might be interested.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Wild Rabbit Stew With IPA

There's an old joke along the lines of a man goes into a restaurant and asks, "Is the rabbit wild?" "Of course it's wild," says the waiter, "it's absolutely livid."  That's got nothing to do with anything, but just to say use wild rabbit for this recipe. It's got a far better flavour than farmed rabbit, it keeps poachers in work, and most farmed rabbits live terrible lives.

I had wild rabbit on a recent trip to Georgia (the country not the state) and I'd almost forgotten how good it is. There it was cooked in white wine and served in a clay dish surrounded by mashed potato. It tasted good, but the meat was still very firm and could have done with being cooked at least an hour longer.

It can be quite a fiddly meat so you want it falling off the bone - and that takes two hours or so of slow cooking. This recipe will do the trick. It is good cooked in red or white wine, but I find it's much better when braised in a (forgive me) hoppy beer like Indian pale ale.

One wild rabbit, jointed
Five tablespoons of sunflower oil
Four tablespoons of flour
Three medium onions, sliced
Three sticks of celery, peeled and diced
Three medium carrots, peeled and diced
Eight garlic cloves, crushed
Two bay leaves
Ten peppercorns
Four green cardamom pods
One pint of IPA 
One pint of water, more if needed
One teaspoon tomato puree
Eight medium potatoes, peeled and halved
Salt to taste

Rabbit is generally cut into eight pieces and it is very easy to do. Take the legs off, and cut the body into four pieces. Make sure you put in the kidneys etc. as well, as they improve the flavour of the liquor. The secret is not to hack away at it with a knife, otherwise you'll end up with sharp bone shards in the stew. Instead hit the back of your knife with a rolling pin and this will give a clean cut through the joints. Easier still, get the butcher to do it.

Sprinkle the pieces with salt then dredge in flour so they are evenly coated. Heat the oil in a pot until it is quite hot, then add the rabbit. Cook on each side for three minutes or so until well browned. Add the onion, celery and carrot and stir well. Fry for another two minutes, then add the bay leaves, tomato puree, cardamom, garlic and peppercorns.

Add the beer, making sure you scrape off all the fried flour bits that may have stuck to the bottom of the pan. Then add enough water to just cover the rabbit. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a low heat. Cover the pan and simmer on the stove for two hours. Stir occasionally and cook at times with the lid off if the liquid needs reducing. Add more water if it is getting too dry. Add the potatoes 30 minutes before the end. It's ready when the meat can be pulled off the bone and the potatoes are still holding their shape, but cooked through. Season to taste.