#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.


#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

#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.

#302 Caveach of Sole

I decided that I needed to get back into doing some proper cooking now that I have a new stove in my new apartment. I invited some people around from work and their various spouses and kids. It is pretty hot here in St Louis at the moment so I needed to choose a recipe that was nice and summery and not all hot and stodgy. It needed to be buffet-style as there would be eight of us in all and I can only fit four around my little table. It also needed to be one that is prepared in advance so I wouldn’t be rushing around in the 35°C heat on the day. I don’t ask for much do I? Oh, and it also couldn’t be weird. My options for this kind of food are rather limited in the book now, but I happily found this one that seemed fresh and clean and rather Mediterranean in style.

The sole lies on its side on the sea bed to camouflage itself.
Over time, natural selection has reacted to this by moving one eye
so that they both sit on one side of the head.

The word caveach refers to a method of preserving fish by cooking and then pickling it and comes from the Spanish escabeche. I did a little research on the preservation method and could only find books from the early-to-mid nineteenth century that mention it in any detail; though it seemed popular in both Britain and America at that time. The recipe below is more of a dinner party adaptation where the fish is only left for a few hours to pickle and isn’t intended as a preservation method at all. You can caveach any fish you like – the most popular seemed to be mackerel, herring and sardine, presumable because they were the cheapest and most common seafish at that time.

It is also nice to cook a receipt from the Seawater Fish section of the book – options are limited in America because there are different species of fish found commonly in their waters compared to European waters. However there is some common ground and the newly-discovered and very excellent grocery store Straub’s has a great selection of fish and meat as well as some other tricky-to-find ingredients, so I’ll be using them quite frequently during my time here in Missouri.

First of all prepare your sole fillets – you’ll need eight in all. Flatten them a little with a rolling pin, season with salt and pepper and fry them quickly in a little olive oil so that they brown a little. Cut them into thirds and arrange the pieces on a serving dish. Slice a medium red onion thinly and scatter over the fish along with the thinly sliced pared rind of a lemon and a couple of bay leaves cut in two. Next mix together seven fluid ounces of olive oil with three tablespoons of white wine vinegar and pour over the fish. Season again with salt, pepper and some Cayenne pepper too. Cover and refrigerate for at least a few hours, but preferable over night. When it is time to serve, scatter over some chopped herbsparsley, coriander or chervil are suggested by Griggers. I went with coriander. Serve with bread and butter and a salad.

#302 Caveach of Sole. This was everything I had hoped it would be – fresh, clean and slightly piquant. The delicately flavoured sole was not overwhelmed at all by the onions and the mild seasoning. A very good recipe this one – and simple too. I think I am going to try it with other, cheaper fish in the USA like tilapia or catfish. Any fish would work I reckon. A dinner-party stalwart this one will be, I feel. 8/10.

#218 Whitebait

Aye up, Grigsoners! I’ve been a bit slack with the blog recently as I have been working all hours over the last week or so. However, I have not been slack in the kitchen as I have a few recipes to tell you all about. Hopefully I’ll get them written over the next few days.

I cooked for some mates last week and managed four Grigsons in one evening. Pretty good going, I reckon. I’m trying to empty the freezer as I have accrued a lot of food during the autumn so things were designed around whatever I found in the deep depths of it. I found the whitebait and had completely forgotten I had bought them. I love whitebait but have never cooked them, though it was all straight-forward enough. It’s funny, but I never really thought of whitebait as an English food, I think this is because I always see it on European restaurant menus. It does have a bit of a history though; according to the Grigson there were whitebait parties held in Dagenham, London to celebrate some land draining system being built. Anyways, William Pitt (the Prime Minister at the time) was invited to one party and loved them so much he held whitebait parties at the close of each parliamentary season. So there you go. Don’t say I don’t educate you all!


To fry your own whitebait, allow them to defrost (if frozen, obv), then rinse them in some milk and allow to drain for a bit. Heat up some deep oil to around 200⁰C. Meanwhile put some seasoned flour in a large freezer bag, place the whitebait inside, seal and give it all a good shake so that they are all nicely covered. Shake off excess and fry in batches for just a minute or two. Drain and season well with salt and Cayenne pepper. Serve the little fish with brown bread and butter and some lemon wedges.

#218 Whitebait. Absolutely delicious and much better than what I’ve had done in restaurants. The flour and milk formed a light, crisp batter keeping the fish nice and soft within. Lemon and brown bread were the perfect accompaniment too. A cheap and delicious treat – go make! 8.5/10.

#159 Creamed Roe Loaves

Here at Grigson Towers, we don’t like to let anything go to waste, and our tasty fishes are certainly something that should be at treated with a huge amount of respect. So do your bit by making your mackerel (or herring) go further by asking your friendly fishmonger to fish out the fishes’ roes when he guts them. After all you have paid for them anyway.

There’s quite a few roe recipes in English Food and I’ve tried them, so I thought I’d better get started. This one seemed straight-forward and is very similar (and cheaper!) to the oyster loaves recipe, so I was sort of on familiar ground. The good thing about this recipe is that you can reduce the amounts accordingly depending upon how many roes you have – in fact I only had enough to make one!

FYI: In case you didn’t know (and don’t let this put you off) the soft roe of a fish is the sperm, and therefore from a male fish. They’ve gone out of favour, with some fishmongers just throwing them away instead of selling them! Another thing we need to try and bring back, people!

Prepare 8 small rolls of bread just like for the oyster loaves. To make the filling, soften 3 shallots or 3 tablespoons of onion in butter over a low heat. Add ½ pint of double cream and cook until it thickens. Cut the roes into one centimetre cubes and place them in the cream and allow them to poach gently – this only takes a few minutes. Add parsley and chives and season with salt, black pepper and Cayenne pepper, plus a squeeze of lemon juice to cut through the creaminess. Spoon the mixture into the hollow loaves and serve immediately.

#159 Creamed Roe Loaves – 7.5/10. I really enjoyed my first foray into roe gastronomy, though a dated dish, you could modernise it easily by serving it on toast instead, or something. They are very soft and have a very delicate flavour. Try them, don’t fear the fish sperm – you’ll like the flavour and texture – and, after all, you’ll happily eat fish eggs (or bird eggs), so what’s the difference?

#158 Gooseberry Stuffing for Mackerel

Apart from Britain and the Netherlands, gooseberries are not grown and eaten in large numbers. This is because they’re not a particularly popular fruit for desserts. However, they are often served with mackerel as in this traditional English recipe. It seems to be a combination that has gone out of favour these days – I’ve certainly never eaten them with fish, though I have has tuna and rhubarb before and that was lovely, so I’ve high hopes for this one.

This makes enough stuffing for 4 mackerel:

Top and tail 8 ounces of gooseberries and cook them gently in ½ an ounce of butter until they just begin to soften and pop. Mash them with the back of a wooden spoon, and when luke warm add another 1 ½ ounces of butter and 4 tablespoons of breadcrumbs. Season them up with salt, and both black and Cayenne pepper, plus a little sugar if the gooseberries are too tart (they need quite a lot of tartness, to cut through the oily mackerel).

Bone the mackerel, or ask your fishmonger to do it (if you want to do it yourself – and it is very easy – follow this link for instructions) and divide the mixture up between them. Place them in a buttered ovenproof dish and season the skin with salt and pepper. Bake for 30 minutes at 190⁰C. I served them with salad.


#158 Gooseberry Stuffing for Mackerel – 8/10. This was a taste sensation. The piquant gooseberry stuffing cuts through the rich oily mackerel so well. This really is a recipe that needs a resurgence. Now is the perfect time to make it people – both gooseberries and mackerel are in season. Isn’t it funny how things that are in season at the same time, seem to go so well together? It’s almost as though God planted them all there for us. Unfortunately, I’m too old to still believe in God, so I assume that there’s a better explanation.

#141 Warm Skate Salad with Shaun Hill’s Dressing

Another fish dish. Skate is one of my favourite fish and liked the idea of having it in warm salad – perfect for this time of year when the weather is often bright and sunny but will a chill still in the air. Classically, skate is poached or fried and served with either a beurre noisette or capers, so I thought having it in strips with warm vinaigrette would be a new thing that might jazz up this tasty, though bland, fish.

Start off by preparing your skate wings (one per person). Rinse each one under the tap or soak in a change or two of water – take heed of this advice, this gets rid of the taste of ammonia found in fresh skate. I didn’t know this, even though I’ve cooked it many times, it’s never been ponged of ammonia. However, this time it was different (for one of us anyway!). Dry the wings and fry them in a little olive oil until cooked through – a few minutes a side, you can tell they’re cooked as the flesh starts to raise itself up from the cartilaginous bones. Whilst you are waiting, wash and dry some green salad leaves (I used watercress to be seasonal) and place a pile of them in the centre of each plate.

Now make the dressing. Set up a bowl over some simmering water. Add three tablespoons of fish stock and around 6 tablespoons of olive oil to the bowl. Chop up a handful of parsley leaves with a shallot and a small clove of garlic. Add this and season with salt, pepper and lemon juice.

Remove the cooked skate from the pan and strip the meat of the wings with a fork. Pile the stripped fish on the salad leaves and sprinkle the whole thing with the dressing. Do this for each plate. Serve immediately.


FYI: Shaun Hill is still a chef, working at The Walnut Tree Inn in Wales. Here’s an article about him.

#141 Warm Skate Salad with Shaun Hill’s Dressing – 5/10. What a weird dish this turned out to be. None of the ingredients were bad , they just didn’t do together. The skate was nice and moist and gelatinous, but it’s delicate flavour was completely drowned out by the dressing with its strong garlic, shallot and olive flavours –delicious that it was. The ammonia was a cause for concern – it obviously doesn’t happen every time one cooks it, otherwise I’d have noticed before, but it’s worth bearing in mind in the future. Overall, I prefer my skate the old-fashioned way… Skate was very popular, but recipes like this won’t be doing it many favours in making it popular again.