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Drawn together: the de-scaler

Categories: Behind the stalls

In a new series award-winning blogger and Borough Market regular Ed Smith displays a talent for illustration as well as the written word, as he talks to stallholders about the tools of their trade. This month: the de-scaler

Words and illustration: Ed Smith

Paul Day, Sussex Fish

I run Sussex Fish with my business partner and have done for a fair few years now. We both have a background in deep sea trawler fishing, but now run three in-shore catamarans out of Newhaven, a small harbour town on the Sussex coast between Brighton and Eastbourne. We catch small hauls and fish sustainably. Our boats service a shop in Seaford and our stall here at Borough.

The de-scaler is my most used and useful bit of equipment. It literally makes light work of a heavy job.

I've been in this trade for about 25 years and always used to use the back of a knife to prep a fish. When you're doing a lot of, say, bass or any heavily scaled fish, you hold the tail and have to work the knife up the fish, like this [gestures vigorously up and down the length of an imaginary fish]. The scales fly off, but it's definitely an effort and really hard work on the arms.

Scaling, gutting and filleting
I do quite a bit of work for restaurants, pubs and that, which means I do all the processing for them—the scaling, gutting and filleting, if they want it. I could easily do 20 fish in a row, but after just five your arm starts cramping up!

I saw this de-scaler at Billingsgate one morning in the sundries department. All the various pointed comb like bits of metal on the wooden handle caught my eye. It looks a bit like a torture tool, doesn't it?!

I think I'm right in saying the design is an Asian one. They traditionally have a lot of heavily scaled fish like snapper and grouper in their seas, and these have thick scales because they're used to being around coral and that coating provides protection against the reef.

A menacing tool
I quite like it because it looks like such a menacing tool, yet it never cuts into the fish. You wouldn't want to whack your hand on it, but the teeth are pretty blunt, really; it doesn't make any impression on the fish at all.

You don't put a lot of force on it, it's more a stroking motion and the weight of your hand will pull the scales off. The design just makes it really easy to do the work. I can probably de-scale a fish three times quicker with this than I could with the back of a knife.

It almost looks second hand, but I've only had it for about two years. That said, if you think how many fish I do, it's an incredible tool and is holding up pretty well. I suspect I de-scale about 40-50 fish a day, so it's got through a few in that time.