#444 Poached Turbot with Shrimp Sauce

This simple-looking recipe has been a long time coming. Why? It’s not the turbot, they’re quite easy to find and not too expensive, no it is the shrimps that have been causing the problem. Brown shrimps are required for this recipe – again, easy to find as potted shrimps or frozen in bags – but this recipe required them unshelled. This has proven nigh-on impossible; in fact I was imagining having to go out to Morecambe Bay with a shrimp fisherman to get them or something. There are only 2 left; the history surrounding shrimp is very interesting, but I have little space to go into it in this post, but I have added it to my list of future podcast episodes.

The reason it’s so difficult to buy them in the shell is they have become rather a niche food (their hey-day was the 1920s), they have also dropped in population size, and have become more expensive. They are also very fiddly to shell. The shrimpers need to be sure to sell their catch, so they prepare them in the way most desirable: potted in butter, and a few frozen. None are ever left intact.

Or, that’s what I thought until one day last month, walking around Didsbury, Manchester, I walked past Evan’s fishmonger’s shop and there they were, a big pile of them in the shop widow. In I walked and purchased an approximate half-pint’s worth – that’s the amount needed for the recipe.

When I got home I popped them in the freezer and last weekend I invited some friends over who I hadn’t seen in ages, and used to come to my early ‘blog dinners’ back when I was doing my PhD at Manchester University.

The best place to begin this one is with the shrimp sauce; Jane makes out that shelling them takes a matter of minutes. Well it doesn’t, it takes ages. I was sure there is a knack to shelling the tiny blighters quickly, but I couldn’t work it out, though I was sure that I had seen footage on TV showing people shelling them using a pin to draw them out, but found nothing on the web to support this so I might have misremembered.

Anyway, you need enough unshelled brown shrimp to fill a half pint glass, remove the shells and then pop the shrimp meat in the fridge as you make a simple stock from the shells by placing them in a saucepan along with half a pint of water. Bring the whole thing to a boil and simmer for just 10 minutes, pass the liquid through a sieve into a measuring jug, squeezing the shells with the back of a spoon. Top back up to half a pint with more water.

Now it’s time for the turbot. Jane asks for one 3 pound in size. Ask the fishmonger to gut and trim it. Before poaching make a cut all down the length of the spine of the knobbly (upper) side of the fish and place in knobbly side down a large deep pan. I used a large wok. Fill the pan with a mixture of half milk, half water so it just covered the fish. Season well with plenty of salt and pepper and add a slice of lemon. Bring to a simmer and poach ‘for 10 minutes or until the flesh loses its transparency and the bones can be raised from the bone very slightly’. Not having cooked a turbot before, I wasn’t sure if Jane’s description would be very helpful, but in the end it was! I use the blunt side of a knife to inspect the meat close to the back bone and it was easy to see it was cooked. It took my turbot about 12 minutes to cook through.

As the turbot poaches, make the sauce. Measure a tablespoon of plain flour in a cup and pour in around 2 tablespoons of the made stock to form a smooth paste, then tip the rest of the stock into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Once simmering, whisk in the flour paste, allow it to come back to the simmer. Now the butter: cut 6 ounces of butter (I used slightly salted) into cubes and whisk them in a couple at a time. You should end up with a nice smooth sauce. Don’t let the sauce boil or the butter will split; keep that heat very low. Season with salt (if it needs it), black pepper, cayenne pepper, mace and nutmeg.

When the fish is cooked gingerly lift it from the pan and onto a large serving plate. Jane recommends those ones with a strainer at the bottom. I didn’t have one of those, so I made sure the plate was quite deep, so it was easy to pour away any poaching liquor. Before you serve take a knob of butter and spread it over the top of the fish to give it a nice sheen, then sprinkle over some chopped parsley.

I served it with simple steamed potatoes and green beans.

Don’t throw away the poaching liquor by the way – simmer the bones and skin left over and make a stock. I used leftover sauce, potatoes, beans and turbot meat to make a chowder the next day and it was great.

#444 Poached Turbot with Shrimp Sauce. What a great recipe to finish off the Saltwater Fish section of the book. I’m still a little nervous cooking fish like this because it happens so rarely, but it was really good: delicate meat that was just at the right point between firm and tender. The shrimp butter sauce was delicious, so glad after waiting all these years to make it. I’ll be making it again, but next time, I’ll make the sauce from small prawns instead. Excellent stuff 8.5/10


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#406 Soused Herrings

The herring and mackerel recipes in the Saltwater Fish section of the Fishchapter have been pretty hit and miss; from the sublime #386 Herrings in Oatmeal to the ridiculously rank #390 Isle of Man Herring Pie, so I was rather pleased that this is the final one of the book. That said, this one did not strike too much fear into me; rollmops are okay and this recipe was not a million miles away from them.


Pickled herrings are not really considered as an English food these days, more Scandinavian, yet they were enjoyed frequently, after all how else were those inlanders going to get to eat them prior o e invention of the train? Pickled fish were an essential part of a #334 Salmagundi as we discovered in (quite unexpectedly) the Poultrysection.

When it comes to eating soused herrings, Jane suggests eating them the Scandinavian way: ‘serving them with a bowl of cream, beaten with lemon juice, salt and pepper, and flavoured with chives…[and] with wholemeal or rye bread and butter’.

This recipe is for 6 people, but as you’ll see, it is very adaptable to any number for folk.

First, select 6 good-looking, plump, red-cheeked herring and ask the fishmonger to bone them, removing their heads. Once home, season the herrings with salt and pepper, roll them up tightly, and spear with cocktail sticks to secure them. Arrange the fillets in an appropriate ovenproof dish, masking sure they fit closely.

Next, pour over a quarter of a pint each of good malt vinegar and water. Halve 3 bay leaves and thinly slice 3 shallots(or a medium onion) and tuck between the fish. Add to that a deseeded and thinly-sliced red chili and level tablespoon of pickling spice.



Cover the dish with foil and bake at 160⁰C for 45 minutes and allow them to cool.

If you don’t want to serve the herring in their baking dish, move them to a more suitable serving dish and sieve over the pickling liquor.

#406 Soused Herrings. Well this was a middling recipe really, not inedible but not very exciting either. The well-flavoured pickling liquor was much better than the liquor used for rollmops. However, rollmops they were, which are never going to have me doing cartwheels. 4.5/10.


#391 Soft Roe Paste

The last of three recipes that use mackerel or herring roes.
There are two types of roe: hard and soft. The former comes from female fish and contains the egg, and the latter, sometimes called melts, are from the male fish and contain the sperm. This recipe, just like the other two, use soft roes. Eating the sperm sac of a fish might appear to be more of an ordeal than a pleasure, but they are tasty and can be picked up very cheaply at the fishmongers. Alternatively, when buying mackerel or herring, you can ask the fishmonger to keep behind any roes that might be present as he scales and guts them. At home, simply sequester them in a freezer bag until you have for a recipe. They are an acquired taste because they are very slightly bitter and so they lend themselves to creamy and buttery ingredients (for example see #159 Creamed Roe Loaves).

Jane makes a point for this recipe to try and buy nice neat matching pairs of roes, rather than just the cast offs that ‘have been flung on to a separate tray’. I would have thought that this recipe would be perfect for the roes that are so carelessly thrown onto the roe tray. Not that this happens anymore – because they are not so popular these days, you almost always have to buy frozen packs.

This recipe just shows how the British just loved to pot things: meat, fish, cheese. It can all be potted and preserved for a later date. In this case the roe paste will only last maybe 4 or 5 days in the fridge, but that’s a lot longer than raw roes would last.
To make your roe paste, first fry 7 ounces of soft herring or mackerel roes in an ounce of butter, then, Jane says, to pass them through a sieve.

 This was a tricky task, which was made much easier by the utilisation of my mouli-legumes. Beat the warm roes into 6 ounces of softened butter. Jane recommends using slightly salted butter, but I have to say, I prefer normal, salted, butter; after all you’ll only add more salt when it comes to seasoning later!

Next, mix in a tablespoon of double cream, then season with salt, Cayenne pepper and lemon juice. Finally add a little chopped parsley.

‘Serve chilled, but not chilled to hardness, with thin toast or baked sliced of bread.’
#391Soft Roe Paste. I liked this paste, the bitter flavour of the roes was cut with the lemon, cream and parsley whilst still maintaining the roe flavour. However, it didn’t exactly make me do backflips. Good, but not great, and nowhere near the dizzy height of previous fishy pastes like #378 Elizabeth David’s Potted Crab. 5.5/10.

#390 Isle of Man Herring Pie

I’ve been putting this one off for ages because it starts with the sentence: “A very similar recipe to the [#133] Welsh Supper Herrings”. These were not good; pappy fishy cat food mush and raw potatoes. However, that was 5 years ago (5 YEARS!) and I like to think of myself as a better cook now than in those naïve days.
This recipe comes from a Mrs Suzanne Woolley who ran a restaurant called Mheillea(‘Harvest Man’) on the Isle of Man. Normally herrings would have been cooked with potatoes as in Wales, but she decided to make a pie of them. Aside from that, it’s pretty much the same as the Welsh Supper Herrings. This did not bode well.
Mrs Woolley’s book – still avaialable!

First of all you need to make or buy some shortcrust pastry, large enough to line and lid a baking dish large enough to hold the ingredients of the pie. A small lasagne-style dish would be appropriate. Line the dish and keep it in the fridge. Reserve the pastry for the lid in the fridge too.

Next, prepare 6 herrings. You need to scale, gut and bone them. Or ask your fishmonger to do it. Boning herring is actually a pretty straight-forward job, as you need no filleting skills whatsoever. I can’t put it better than Jane herself:
Cut off heads, fins and tails and bone them: to do this, put the herring on a board, backbone up, spreading out the slit sides of the belly. Press gently along the backbone from neck to tail, until you feel the bone giving. Turn the herring over, and you will find you can pick out the backbone complete with most of the whiskery bones still attached (separate bones can be pulled out).
It’s worth mentioning that you need really fresh firm herrings for this. If they’re just a few days’ old, they will have started to go mushy, and the procedure described by Jane above will be most unsuccessful.
Next, season them on both sides with salt, black pepper and ground mace (about ½ a teaspoon should do it). Spread some softened butter over the base of the pie and arrange the herrings on top. Peel, core and slice 3 good-sized cooking apples and thinly slice 2 medium onions. Put the apple on next to forma layer, then the onions. Place dots of butter over the top, season again with salt and pepper, then sprinkle over 4 tablespoons of water

 Roll out the remainder of the pastry, sealing the pie with some beaten eggor cream. Make a hole in the middle of the pie so that steam can escape and brush the lid with your egg or cream.

Bake at 180-190⁰C for 40 minutes or so. “Check after 30 minutes”, says Grigson, “by pushing a larding needle or skewer through the central hole of the lid, so that it pierces the herring; you should be able to feel whether the herrings are cooked by the way the needle or skewer goes in.”
And there you have it. I assume the pie was supposed to be a self-contained meal, maybe a suitable salad could be served alongside it.
#390 Isle of Man Herring Pie. Well I have to say I’ve not had a really terrible recipe from English Food in quite a while, so I was well overdue. The herring just did not go with the apples at all; it would at least have ben palatable as an apple and onion pie. I cannot see how this recipe made it into any cookbook! Really bad. Went straight in the bin. 1/10.

#386 Herrings in Oatmeal

Herrings and oatmeal used to be staple foods in the North of England and Scotland, where the ‘silver darlings’ were plentiful and oats were pretty much the only cereal crop that could be grown in those inhospitable climes of The North. They were particularly enjoyed at breakfast. We don’t seem to eat fish at breakfasttime anymore, except for the rare kipper or a bit of smoked salmon stirred through scrambled egg, if we’re feeling posh.
Also, you don’t see recipes for this dish in older cookbooks, I assume it is because it’s so straightforward and was so commonplace that writing it down was simply not required. I cannot even find the phrase “herrings in oatmeal” before the 20th Century! More modern books include them of course, even if it just to remind us of the foods our forefathers ate.

Herring in general are quite ignored, I think, though their relative the mackerel is increasing in popularity. It’s strange that in the middle of the last century they were over-fished. It’s a shame they’ve fallen out of favour, as they are very nutritious and very cheap.

It is herring spawning season right now – they are bright-eyed, plump and have massive creamy roes in them, so if you want to try them, now is the right time
I confess, I have never eaten herrings in oatmeal, but I love herrings and I love oatmeal, so they couldn’t be bad.
This recipe is for six, but it is easy to see how it can be scaled up or down:
First of all, you need six fine herring. Ask the fishmonger to open the herring from the back as though they were kippers. Ask him to save the roes (they’re not required for the recipe but they should always be saved).
At home, season the fish and them press them into some medium or fine oatmeal that has been scattered over a plate; about 3 ounces should do it. Fry the herrings in butter until they are lovely and golden-brown. Do them in batches if need be, keeping the cooked ones warm in the oven on a bed of kitchen paper to keep them crisp. Serve with lemon wedges.
Jane tells us the best way to serve these is with simple boiled potatoes and bacon. I had the spuds, but swapped the bacon for a salad! Traditionally fatty bacon would be crisped and fried, and the herring would then be cooked in the bacon fat; next time (and there will be a next time) I’ll do the bacon thing.
#386 Herrings in Oatmeal. Well I have said it many times, but I’m going to say it again, the simple ones are the best. These were delicious, forgotten gems. The chewy oatmeal really complimented the mild herring perfectly. This sort of food has fallen so out of our collective consciousness that you just do not see it anywhere. I might be my new favourite thing. When my little restaurant opens, herrings in oatmeal will certainly be on the menu. 9/10.

 

#380 Gooseberry Sauce for Mackerel

After the rather wet start to the summer, I was beginning to think that this year’s gooseberries were never going to arrive. Then we had that glorious stint of hot weather. Now we have so many gooseberries and other soft fruit, we barely know what to do with them. Well here’s one thing, just as mackerel is in season. I like Jane’s introduction to this recipe:
On May 26th, 1796, Parson Woodforde [we have met him in the blog before, see here] and his neice, Nancy, had for their dinner ‘a couple of maccerel boiled and stewed gooseberries and a leg of mutton roasted’. In other years, they were not so lucky; the gooseberries did not always ripen for the arrival of the first spring mackerel.
Ms Grigson’s recipe is a very simple one indeed:
Begin by topping and tailing 8 ounces of gooseberries and then melt an ounce of butter in a pan. Add the gooseberries, cover with a lid and cook until soft. I love how they go from vivid green to an almost straw-yellow when heated.
Use your wooden spoon to crush the berries on the side of the pan to form a rough purée, you could, if you are so inclined, pass them through a sieve to produce a smooth sauce. I don’t see the point in these things normally; it’s not like gooseberry seeds are particularly offensive.
The tart flavour of the gooseberries is cut with either ¼ pint of double creamor béchamel sauce. I went for the latter for health’s and money’s sake. Taste the sauce and add a little sugar, if needed, don’t make it sweet like an apple sauce for pork.
That’s it! Very simple and not just for mackerel either, but other oily fish, roast duck, pork, lamb, veal and – no surprises – goose.
#380 Gooseberry Sauce for Mackerel. A triumph of good, simple cooking. The creaminess of the béchamel did a great job of wrapping its way around those tart gooseberries, so much so that only a pinch of sugar was required. I could eat it all on its no problem! 8.5/10

#376 Eliza Acton’s Sole Stewed in Cream

Eliza Acton (1799-1859) was a cook and poet. She was the first person write a cook book for normal folk like you and I, all the previous ones were written for the housekeepers and kitchen staff that ran houses and stately homes. Eliza was also the first to include cooking times and ingredients lists in her recipes. Years later Mrs Beeton based her much more popular book on Acton’s writings. Cheeky!

This recipe comes from her famous book Modern Cookery, for Modern Families published in 1860. Old that it is, its simplicity seems quite modern to me; there are very few ingredients, just sole, salt, cream, mace, Cayenne pepper and lemon juice, and it was designed to show off the excellent flavour of a delicate fish.

If you can’t get hold of sole, use any other flat or white fish like brill, turbot, cod, haddock, pollack etc., though they will need to be cooked for longer.

Her recipe starts: Prepare some very fresh middling soles with exceeding nicety…

Ask the butcher to gut and scale a nice sole. At home, prepare it by trimming off the fins and place it in a close-fitting dish or pan. Pour around it boiling water that almost covers it, plus a teaspoon of salt, then let it simmer for just two minutes. Carefully pour away the water and pour in some cream so that it goes half way up the fish. Bring to a simmer and baste the fish with the hot cream until cooked through. This takes only four or five minutes, but if the cream thickens too much, let it down with some of the cooking liquid or some water.

Remove the sole to a serving dish and finish the cream sauce by adding some saltand a little ground mace and Cayenne pepper. Lift the sauce with a squeeze of lemon juice – a little under half a lemon did for me.

Pour the sauce over the fish and serve with boiled potatoes and some blanched and buttered cucumber dice, says Jane, though I expect it would work very well with a green salad or some quickly-steamed asparagus spears.
#376 Eliza Acton’s Sole Stewed in Cream. I loved this. The fish was lovely and moist and it flaked away from the bone very easily. The sauce was not as rich as you might expect, and its mild creaminess complemented the fish very well. There was also the added bonus of finding a large and handsome roe within the sole which also ate very well. Very good and very simple 8/10

#372 Creamed Roe Tart

Here’s the second of three herring or mackerel roe dishes from the Saltwater Fish part of the FishChapter. I loved the first one, #159 Creamed Roe Loaves, and it was a revelation as I had never tried them before, so I was looking forward to this.
Soft roes, sometimes called milts, are essentially a kind of fish offal that are very much out of fashion these days. Soft roes are the male reproductive glands; in other words, the sperm of male fish (in contrast, females have hard roes). Gone are the days when fishmongers had a tray of them kept aside, saved from the gutting of the mackerel and herring. My fishmonger did have some frozen away, so you should ask yours as you never know. Of course if you are buying several fish at the same time, you can ask the fishmonger to put the roes aside for you and then you would have yourself an extra meal, or at least, a garnish – you have paid for them after all!
I served this tart as a starter.
Start off by making (or – heaven forbid! – buy) an 8 or 9 inch blind-baked shortcrust pastry case. I made my own from 6 ounces of plain flour, 1 ½ ounces each of salted butter and lard and a beaten egg.
Next, gently fry 4 ounces of sliced mushrooms in an ounce of butter. While they fry, prepare the custardy roe filling. Start by pouring boiling hot water from the kettle over 8 ounces of soft herring or mackerel roes and watch them curl up like giant snails. Leave for 3 or 4 minutes to poach.
Drain the roes and put them into a food processor along with 2eggs and ¼ pint of soured cream. Blitz, taste and season with salt, black pepper, Cayenne pepper and lemon juice.  If you don’t have a food processor, pass the roes through a sieve and stir into the remaining ingredients.
Scatter the mushrooms over the pastry base and pour in the roe custard. Place in an oven preheated to 190⁰C (375⁰F) and bake – it says in the book – for 35 to 40 minutes. ‘Serve hot or warm with a tomato salad.’
#372 Soft Roe Tart. I liked this one, though nowhere near as much as#159 Creamed Roe Loaves that I cooked, it seems, an age ago. The mushrooms were nice but I think the custard needed less soured cream and more normal cream in my opinion and the cooking time was way, way off. I checked the tart after 25 minutes and it was over-cooked, so that was a little annoying. It’s good job roes are cheap! 6.5/10.
 

#355 Devilled Herring or Mackerel

When I was in America there was one part of English Food I had to almost ignore: the Saltwater Fish section of the Fish chapter. This is because the seas surrounding the USA and the UK contain different species of fish. Mackerel and herring were particularly difficult to get hold of and when they were around they had been imported from Spain!

I thought I would get going with this simple recipe where the herring or mackerel are painted with a spicy mixture (the ‘devil’) and grilled. Devilling was a popular way of livening up almost any kind of food that really caught on during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. If you are not used to cooking fish, this would be a great place to start I think.

This recipe serves six, but it can easily be scaled up or down.

Get yourself 6 fresh herring or mackerel and ask the butcher to clean them reserving any roes should they have them. Roes are usually found around February time so there were none for me!

At home preheat the grill, then rinse the fish inside and out, pat them dry and make several diagonal cuts down the sides of each one then get to work on that devil. Mix together 3 tablespoons of Dijon mustard, 2 teaspoons of sunflower or groundnut oil, ¼ teaspoon of Cayenne pepper and a good pinch or two of salt.
 
Using a brush, paint both sides of the fish with the devil. If you do have roes, paint them too and slip them inside the fishes’ cavities. Roll them in dry breadcrumbs(you’ll need about 3 ½ ounces), then sprinkle with around 3 ½ fluid ounces of melted butter.

Line your grill pan with foil and the fish on it. Grill 6 minutes one side, then 6 minutes on the other, basting every now and again. The skin should blister and begin to blacken. Serve hot with lemon wedges and some sprigs of parsley.

#355 Devilled Herring or Mackerel. This was very good; the fish was perfectly cooked and the skin had gone nice and crispy. However, there was no way near enough of the devil mixture on the fish, in fact I hardly noticed it. If you try the recipe, I would double the amount of mustard and Cayenne pepper at least, or perhaps exchange the Dijon mustard for hot English mustard. Very succulent fish, but there was nothing devilish, and so because of this I am going to give it 5.5/10.

#342 Halibut with Anchovies

It’s always nice to add an extra species of animal or plant to my list of foods I have eaten. Halibut is reasonably pricey so I have typically avoided them in the fishmonger’s shop. They are also beasts – the largest flatfish to be found in European waters. Check out this one caught off the west coast of Iceland in 2010:

It weighed an impressive 34 stones (that’s 476 pounds, or 220 kilos)!

This recipe is from the Polish novelist Joseph Conrad’s wife. She was and Englishwoman called Jessie George, who obviously had a flair for cookery. She wrote a book called A Handbook of Cookery for a Small House, and I assume (for Grigson doesn’t say) that it is this volume from which the recipe comes.

The recipe includes an unusual ingredient – Patum Peperium, otherwise known as Gentleman’s Relish. It is a highly spiced potted anchovy spread, and was a Victorian invention – click here for a link to the other blog for more information on this delicious savory.

This will serve 3 or 4 people, depending upon the size of your piece of halibut, which should weigh between 1 and 1 ½ pounds. Try and get hold of a steak, if you can only get fillets buy two pieces and sit them on top of each other. Make the spiced butter by mashing together 4 ounces of softened butter and a very generous heaped teaspoon of Patum Peperium and smear it over the halibut, including the underside. Sprinkle over 6 tablespoons of white breadcrumbs and bake in the oven for 30 minutes at 190⁰C (375⁰F) until the breadcrumbs have browned.

In the meantime make the tomato sauce that accompanies the fish. Peel 8 ounces of tomatoes by cutting through the skins in a cross shape on their undersides. Place in a jug and pour over boiling water. After 1 or 2 minutes, remove the tomatoes and the skin should be easy to peel away. Chop the tomatoes and cook them in a saucepan with a good sized knob of butter. Gently cook until the juices are reduced to just 3 or 4 tablespoons. Season with a teaspoon of Worcester sauce and some salt, pepper and sugar.

Remove the fish from the oven and place on a serving dish, pour the buttery juices into the sauce and spoon it around the fish. Finally, add 6 split anchovy fillets and place on top of the fish in a criss-cross pattern.

Jane suggests serving with matchstick potatoes. She does not let us know how to make them, but luckily I knew anyway: peel some potatoes and cut into 2 or 3 millimetre matchsticks – julienne as the French say – use a food processor or Chinese mandolin to do this (if you don’t have one, then don’t even bother and boil some potatoes in their skins instead). Plunge the potatoes into a roomy bowl of water so you can rinse away the start. Then drain them in a sieve.

Heat up some cooking oil such as sunflower or groundnut. When a piece of bread goes nice and brown in about 30 seconds, it is hot enough to add the potatoes in batches. Fry for 2 or 3 minutes until golden brown, around 180⁰C if you have an electric deep fat fryer or cooking thermometer, then drain on kitchen towels. Salt and serve.

#342 Halibut with Anchovies. What a delicious dish! The fish was firm, flaky and moist and the butter was seasoned with just the right amount of the Patum Peperium. The tomato sauce was rich yet fresh; a great meal for a summer’s evening. 8.5/10.