“Smoked and salted fish…are altogether on their own, the supplementary creation of another edible substances as different from the original as salami from pork.”Jane Grigson, English Food
If Jane Grigson has taught me anything it is that the best foods are best enjoyed simply, and nothing illustrates this better than the recipes here in the Cured Fish section of the Fish chapter of English Food which I have now completed.
Back in the early days of the blog, I remember shuddering at some of the recipes; there were lots of unfamiliar ingredients – sprats, eels, bloaters – as well as a lot of smoked salmon, which I thought I did not like until I bought some of high quality as instructed by Jane. So unfamiliar was I with the ingredients I was not even sure #395 Red Herrings actually existed. It was difficult tracking them down, but I managed to find one supplier that still sold them. That supplier has sadly gone out of business, so I’m not sure if one can buy red herrings in Britain anymore so there’s a good chance I may have caught a taste of a food just before its extinction. If that is the case, I am glad I managed to feature it in soufflé form on a pop-up restaurant menu. Red herrings may be lost to us, but many traditional cures are still here alive and well, and what is more it’s the artisan producers who are making them and sticking to old methods and keeping them alive for us to enjoy today, canned and frozen fish notwithstanding.
In this section there are a couple of recipes for fish paste, another thing I would never have made, had I not been prompted; #358 Bloater Paste or #50 Kipper Paste may not sound appealing, but really are very good.
Jane pays particular attention to the anchovy, a cornerstone of English cooking. The recipes she chose were odd though: there was the superlative and simple #10 ‘To Make a Nice Whet Before Dinner’ and #287 Scotch Woodcock (a 9.5/10 and 8/10 respectively), and as anathema the rather naff #195 Canapés à la Crème and the simply vile #247 Anchovy Matchsticks (a 3/10 and 1/10 respectively). Anchovies crop up elsewhere in the book because they are an excellent and interesting seasoning for all kinds of dishes. An English #312 Pork Pie must contain anchovy essence or anchovy sauce if it’s to be a proper one, and her excellent #342 Halibut with Anchovies uses Patum Peperium, a Victorian anchovy paste also known as Gentleman’s Relish, which I wrote about a few years ago now on the other blog.
As usual, I have listed the recipes below in the order they appear in the book with links to my posts and their individual scores, so have a gander. It is worth pointing out, that my posts are no substitute for Jane’s wonderful writing, so if you don’t own a copy of English Food, I suggest you get yourself one.
#395 Red Herrings 7/10
#358 Bloater Paste 7.5/10
#105 Kippers 8/10
#50 Kipper Paste 8/10
#310 Smoked Mackerel 7/10
#240 Smoked Sprats 7.5/10
#190 Finnan Haddock 8/10
#184 Kedgeree 8/10
#234 Smoked Eel 8/10
#92 Smoked Trout 7.5/10
#166 Smoked Salmon 7/10
#287 Scotch Woodcock 8/10