Guy Singh-Watson is a charismatic guy. If you’ve had the pleasure of listening to his Desert Island Discs you’ll see that for yourself. One of five kids, he grew up on a farm himself, before setting off to NYC to give the corporate life a go. Needless to say management consultancy didn’t work out particularly well so he came back, and along with his siblings, breathed fresh life into the farming game. He’s SMART. Super smart. You can see his brain whizzing ahead as he gives us a tour of the polytunnels growing tomatoes and mini cucumbers. He chomps into a chilli whilst explaining the different fertilizers he’s been trialling. He’s always thinking about how things can be done better, smarter, more sustainably.
So it’s really no wonder that he’s managed to turn something so simple (vegetables) into a mini empire, with a whole lot of heart.
Guy kindly hosted us at his humble house, where his dog, Artichoke (what else?) ran about our legs whilst we sat around the family dining table, enjoying an organic feast. There’s a real sense of family to the whole operation, with Guy surrounded by a great team. But is that any wonder – as of 8th June 2018, Riverford became an employee-owned business with Guy holding on to 26% of the business.
The next day we headed to the Erme Estuary in the South Hams to see where their Marsh Samphire is grown. Samphire is a wild edible plant that grows on estuarine mudflats. It comes into its short season (around mid-June until late August); after that, British samphire starts to develop inedible woody ‘skeletons’ so it really needs to be snapped up when you see it. We got to work, half sinking in the mud, half harvesting the green salty sticks for our lunch (recipe below).
The following was one of the best meals I’ve eaten all year. And it was made on a camp stove in the middle of the boggy estuary, so that really is saying something.
Whilst we were waiting for the talented chef Bob to cook lunch, Guy suggested we go for a dip – and before we could say ‘Cardoon’, everyone was jumping in starkers.
Pan-fried Hake & Samphire
Prep 5 mins, Cook 10 mins
The samphire will cook in very little time, so it only needs adding to the pan towards the end. It won’t need any seasoning as it is inherently salty. You can serve this dish as it is, but it will benefit from a side of simply boiled new potatoes.
The aim with your fish is to get perfectly crispy skin. This is easier than you’d think, it takes a hot pan and minimal intervention. The skin will lift away from the pan as it crisps so resist the urge to poke and prod. When you flip the fish and remove it from the heat it will continue to cook in the declining warmth of the pan.
3 x 150g Hake fillets, skin on and scaled
Small handful of dill, chervil and parsley
Walnut sized knob of butter
Season the fish on all sides, 10 mins before cooking.
Wash the samphire well and trim away any tough looking ends.
Pick the herbs away from their stalks and finely chop them.
Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a non-stick frying pan. When the oil is nice and hot add the fish, skin side down.
Let it cook undisturbed for 3 mins (see cook’s notes above).
Lift the fish, the skin should be a golden brown, cook for a little longer if not. Gently flip them over to the flesh side.
Add the samphire in the gaps around the fish. Dot the butter over the samphire.
Cook for 1 more min. Finish with a squeeze of lemon and remove the pan from the heat. Let the fish and samphire sit in the pan for 2 mins.
Scatter with the fresh herbs, followed by a few grinds of black pepper.
Serve immediately with some lemon wedges for extra squeezing.
If you’re in the Totnes area, you MUST pop into the Riverford Field Kitchen. Menus change daily and there is just one sitting at lunch and dinner, with everyone eating the same thing. Booking is essential as they only make enough for who’s coming (so as to reduce waste) and menus are very reasonably priced. We tucked into freshly baked rye sourdough, perfectly presented leeks dribbled with gribiche, little-gem lettuces teased with stilton and hazelnuts, before a round of mackerel on tomatoes and pickled purslane arrived alongside braised fennel and courgettes. For dessert you’ll be invited up to the kitchen pass and asked to pick your favourite from a selection of sweet treats (just like if you were round your nans).
On our return we were kindly sent a great big box of seasonal veggies. Filthy, grubby veggies, pulled straight out of the ground we’d been walking on the week before. It felt really good to have that connection, to have a fridge full of vegetables that could provide the base for so many different meals. My boyfriend and I found ourselves shelling broad beans – an activity we’d never have found ourselves doing had we just popped to the local co-op. Courgettes were ribboned and spiked with lemon and chilli, new potatoes were turned into a healthy potato salad, fresh leaves made it into pack lunches, mini cucumbers into G&T’s. It felt endless, but got through it we did, enjoying the challenge of using everything up whilst it was at its best. There were a few firsts – it turns out artichoke is a lot easier to prepare than we’ve been led to believe – and so enjoyable to eat, sparking lots of chat due to the consuming time it takes to eat one.
What a total joy. It actually felt like our meal times were transformed for a week. If you do currently get a veg box or are thinking about getting one, we’d highly recommend these books for helping you get the best out of the box:
Riverford companion cook book: spring & summer veg: £12.99 Buy Now
Riverford companion cook book: autumn & winter veg: £12.99 Buy Now