#358 Bloater Paste

The thought of eating fish paste may make people shudder, people would think differently if this recipe were named smoked fish pâté, I feel. However we are not French so fish paste it remains. Perhaps people think back to those nasty cheap homogenised pots of meat and fish paste from their childhood. If you make your own it is a very different creature and I am sure this one will be same.

The other thing that may put one off from this recipe is the name of the fish in question – the bloater. It’s not the most delicious sounding fish is it? There have been several bloater recipes and this is the final one, but if you are not in the know a bloater is in fact a cured herring. The cure is very similar to that of the kipper and the only real difference is that bloaters are cured completely whole giving them a more gamy flavour than a kipper. Because they are intact they bloat as they smoke, hence the name.

This is a nice straight-forward easy affair. Start by gutting your bloaters, removing any membranes from the cavity. I had just one, but was lucky to find two nice fat roes inside within so I reserved those and tossed the rest of the innards in the bin.

Pour boiling water over your fish and roes; the skin will curl and the body of the fish will noticeably tense and plump up. Leave for around 10 minutes to poach in the water. Remove the skin and flake the flesh, being careful to pick out any bones, don’t worry too much about the very thin hair bones, they will not be noticed.
 
Don’t forget to fish out the roes, should you have any. Weigh the fish and place in a food processor along with its equal weight in softened butter. Whizz up until you have a spreadable consistency you like. Season with ground black pepper, lemon juice and a little salt. Serve with hot toast.

You get quite a lot of paste – I got two 250 ml pots from just the one bloater. Not bad at all I reckon.

#358 Bloater Paste. This was delicious and light – the butter helped whip the bloater into a wonderful consistency and the lemon juice really accentuated the fish’s own natural piquancy. Very good. 7.5/10.

#356 Salmon in its own Juices

It used to be associated with fine dining and the upper-middle classes, but today whole salmon is such great value in Britain today. The reason for this switch is the shift in focus within the fishing industry from wild to farmed salmon. Salmon farmers get a bit of a bad press: they are blamed for polluting our seashores and are accused of producing a low quality product that lacks the fullness of flavour and firm texture that wild salmon are prized for. Like all farmers, there are good and bad and it is very hard to know which are which. However if you are going to a reputable fishmonger they should be able to inform you about the farm; plus, of course, the price of the fish will be a good indication of the quality of the farm.
Scottish fishermen spear salmon as they leap upriver

If you do see any wild Atlantic salmon and you can afford it, buy it and cook it simply like in this recipe. I know this is not the sustainable thing to do, but if current research is correct, the wild salmon population in the United Kingdom has gone past the point of no return and it will become extinct sadly soon. It is past saving; sad but true. It is a world away from the pre-industrial age where salmon was so common in the River Mersey that they were used as pig feed!

This is such an unbelievably easy dish to make you would be a fool not to try it:

Get yourself a nice bright-eyed, firm fleshed whole salmon, ask your fishmonger to descale and gut it if he hasn’t already done so already.

At home give it a rinse inside and out and pat it dry. Unroll a piece of foil that is quite a bit larger than the salmon and smear it with butter, salt and pepper. Butter and the season the fish on both sides as well as within. Lay it on the buttered foil and lay another sheet of buttered and seasoned foil on top. Wrap it up to make a spacious parcel. If you want to serve the fish cold, rather than hot, use olive oilrather than butter.

Now you have two options: you can cook the salmon in a fish kettle or the oven.

For the fish kettle: To eat it hot, lay the wrapped salmon on the rack and place it in the kettle. If the salmon is too large for the kettle (as mine was) behead the fish and wrap the head up separately. Place it over two hobs, cover it with ‘tepid water’ and slowly bring to a simmer. Let it simmer gently for five minutes, then turn off the heat and let it sit in the water for 15 minutes more, then remove and unwrap. If you want to serve it cold, bring the water to a boil and then turn off the heat and allow the salmon to cool in the water.

For the oven: To eat it hot bake in the oven at 180C (350F) for 50-60 minutes. If you doubt how long you should keep it in the oven, the fish is best served a little undercooked. However, this method ensures that the fish never dries out so worry about it leaving it cooking to long. To eat cold, put the fishy parcel on a baking tray and bake for an hour at 150C (300F) if under five pounds, if over bake for 12 minutes per pound.

Unwrap your fish and place it on a serving dish and get to work on making it look pretty.

You have an easy job if you are serving it hot because all you have to do is remove the skin and add a bit more salt and pepper. Make a hollandaise sauce by first boiling down any juices to a concentrated stock to use as the base to it. Check out this link if you want to use Jane Grigson’s own recipe for hollandaise sauce (though I think Gary Rhodes’s is the best and most fool-proof recipe).

If you are serving the fish cold for a buffet, you can get creative with the decoration. Skin it and remove the thin layer of brown meat if you like – though Griggers does say that she finds it ‘far too delicious to discard’. If you are used to cooking fish, you could try and remove the fillets take out the bones and then replace it. Adding cucumber scales to the fish used to be a common way to present a fish cooked like this, but I think it is best left alone. If you removed the head lay it down in front of the body and hide the join with ‘a ruffle of mayonnaise’. For Jane’s mayonnaise recipe click this link.

#356 Salmon in its own Juices. I served the salmon hot with hollandaise as suggested and some simple boiled vegetables. I thought this was delicious in its simplicity: essentially just salmon, butter, salt and pepper. The fish was moist and flaked off the bone whilst still yielding plenty of moisture. The hollandaise too was delicious, flavoured with those delicious concentrated juices. Excellent stuff! 9/10.

#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.

#337 Eel Pie

This recipe puts me three-quarters of the way through the book! Who’d have thunk I’d still be ploughing through it!?

The fourth and final eel recipe from the book just in time for Good Friday, hopefully it will be better than the third which was a disaster…

Eel pies or pasties are a food that has a very long history in Britain. Sometimes they were just simply unskinned eels, herbs, spices and water covered with a ‘coffin’ of pastry, probably eaten as a stew rather like water-souchy; the pastry simply serving as a vessel within which to cook the fish. The earliest mention of eel pie I have found comes from an article by A. Peripatetic in a 19th Century periodical called London Society:
East-Farleigh lies in the hundred of Maidston, and was given to the prior and monks of Christ-Church in Canterbury, by Ediva the Queen, mother of the two kings Eadred and Edmund in the year 941, and was…to find the convent with eel-pies.
Eels are associated the most with London and there is a great old proverb that I discovered is used in Shakespeare’s King Lear, which I can really relate to:
Lear:     Oh me, my heart, my rising heart! but down.
Fool:     Cry to it, nuncle, as the cockney did to the eels, when she put
Them i’the paste alive; she rapt ‘em o’the coxcombs with a stick,
And cry’d, Down, wantons, down!

In other words, she  was so squeamish about killing the eels for her pie, she tried to bake them alive, making the whole situation worse and much more stressful than it would have been had she killed them. The first time I made eel I had to do away with them myself and it was pretty distressing (see here).

King Lear and Fool

I’m quite glad to have come to the end of the eel recipes to be honest because I was starting to feel rather guilty about eating a fish whose numbers have been in sharp decline. Anyways, if you do come across an eel for sale you may as well purchase it and turn it into a little piece of history as I did:
The first thing you need to make is the pastry – an unusual one using grated butter and cream that is somewhere between a flaky pastry and a shortcrust.
Place a block of butter in the freezer until it is well-chilled, but not frozen. Meanwhile measure out 6 ounces of flour and mix in a good pinch of salt. Next grate the butter over your kitchen scales until you have 3 ounces and add this to the flour.
Add enough cream – use either single or soured – or water to form a good soft dough, stirring in your liquid of choice at first with a knife then bringing it together with your hands. I noticed that the flour required more cream than it would have needed if using water. Cover and chill in the fridge for at least an hour. A note to Americans:  Soured cream in the USA is far too thick as an option, so go for something like half-and-half or heavy cream.
Peel and finely chop four shallots and soften them slowly in butter in a wide shallow pan. When cooked, tip them into a shallow pie dish or plate with a capacity of around 2 pints.
Now prepare the eels, you need 1 ½ pounds altogether (if your eels are alive, have a gander at this post and also this one, for the good it’ll do you). The best way to skin them I have found is to cut around the base of the neck, then hold down the head firmly with a dry cloth and pull the skin off in one long piece with a pair of pliers like a slender stocking. Trim the thin ends of the tails and add them to a pan along with the heads to 18 fluid ounces of chicken or fish stock, and simmer them together for around 20 minutes. In the meantime cut the eels into one inch pieces.
Coat the eel pieces in seasoned flour and fry them, in batches if necessary, browning them well. Add more butter if need be. Scatter the eel pieces over the shallots and deglaze the pan with the eel-flavoured stock, and reduce it by about a half, then add 2 tablespoons of medium dry sherry and 5 fluid ounces of double cream. Boil for 2 more minutes before adding ½ teaspoon of thyme and 3 tablespoons of chopped parsley. Season with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Add a further tablespoon of sherry if you fancy. Pour the sauce over the eels and allow the whole thing to cool.
Peel and slice two hardboiled eggs and scatter them over the eel, then roll out your pastry, gluing it to the rim of the dish with some more cream. Add a hole or a slit for the steam to escape and decorate with the trimmings – I went with a very complex eel motif of my own design. Glaze with cream and bake at 220C (425F) until the pastry has turned an appetising shade of brown – around 10 or 15 minutes, then turn down the heat to 180 (350F) for 20 minutes.
Grigson suggests serving the pie with peas or a chicory salad, though I just went with a mixed salad.
#337 Eel Pie. A very good recipe this one – especially if you are a newcomer to eel. The sauce was nice rich, and the eel tender. The good thing about eel is that it has a very simple anatomy so the bones are fairly easy to find and remove. The sauce was a little too thick and overpowered the delicately-flavoured eel a bit. It deserves a healthy 6.5/10.

#328 Salmon in Pastry, with a Herb Sauce

This is a recipe that is inspired by the medieval love of combining fish and candied sweetmeats. Griggers says it is a ‘brave, but entirely successful blend’. We’ll see. Large medieval banquets had to contain dishes with lots of spice; after all how else could you display your vast wealth other than to use that new and exciting new spice, sugar? When first brought to Europe from India, sugar was considered a spice like any other and therefore medicinal. It lost its rank as a spice once it gained popularity as a more general addition to the dinner table; albeit a giant banqueting table.

The addition of the salmon, then, you might feel was also a mark of an ostentatious medieval lord. It is not the case, back in the day, before such things as pollution and overfishing, streams were teeming with fish like salmon. In fact they were so common on the River Mersey that people used to feed them to their pigs! The same, of course, goes for oysters too, and yet we can now buy a pound of sugar for 30 pence. How times have changed.
This dish is very attractive: a nice piece of fish wrapped in pastry with some spices and a nice piquant herb sauce containing some lesser used herbs, and it’s pretty easy to make to boot.
Ask the fishmonger for a 2 ½ pound tail piece of salmon and ask him or her to bone it. If you like, ask them to take off the skin (though I have never seen the point of this). If there isn’t a tail in a single piece, get two filleted tail ends of approximately equal size.
To make the sweet and spicy filling, beat 4 ounces of softened butter with 4 knobs of preserved ginger that have been chopped, a heaped tablespoon of raisins and  a rounded tablespoon of chopped, blanched almonds. Use half of the mixture to sandwich the two pieces of salmon together and then spread the remaining half over the top piece. Season with salt and pepper.
Now you are ready to encase the beast in pastry. Jane suggests using a shortcrust pastry made with 8 ounces of flour and 4 of fat, but I needed a lot more: I used a batch made of 14 ounces of flour and 7 of fat! I must have got a very large 2 ½ pound piece of salmon… Roll out a third of the pastry into a shape larger than the fish and place it on top. Next, roll out the rest and carefully place it over the fish, gluing it together with some beaten egg before trimming the edges and glazing the whole thing. Use the trimmings to ‘make a restrained decoration on top. There were a few small cracks in my pastry, but I hid them most cleverly with some pastry leaves that I placed here and there. I must say, I was quite impressed with my effort. Make 2 or 3 slashes on the top so that steam can escape and bake it for 30 to 35 minutes at 220C (425F).

Whilst the salmon cooks, you can get on with the sauce. Gently fry 2 chopped shallots, a heaped teaspoon of chopped parsley and a teaspoon of mixed chopped tarragon and chervil in 2 ounces of butter. When the shallots have softened, stir in a teaspoon of flour, then ½ pint of single cream (or half single-half double; American readers: heavy whipping cream is the thing to use here). Simmer for around 10 minutes, then season with salt and pepper and a teaspoon of Dijon mustard. Whisk 2 egg yolks with a couple more tablespoons of cream, turn down the heat in the pan and pour in. The sauce will thicken as the yolks start to cook – do not let the sauce boil, or your yolks will scramble. Finally, lift the whole thing by adding a good squeeze of lemon juice.

Place the salmon in its pastry on a hot dish; serve with the sauce in a separate sauceboat.’
#328 Salmon in Pastry, with a Herb Sauce. Another winner from Grigson; the medieval folk of England obviously knew what they were doing, and obviously weren’t all style, no substance. The salmon remained nice and moist and was perfectly cooked and really was complemented by its very sweet and slightly spiced butter basting. My only complaint would be that there wasn’t enough of the filling; I would have added at least an extra half again of the ginger and raisins. The sauce was excellent – creamy, yet light – tarragon and chervil are really delicious herbs that don’t get featured enough. This applies to chervil particularly, which seems to be in season at the moment as it’s cropping all over the place at the minute. A very good dish this one that could be made excellent with some minor changes. 8/10.

#313 Jellied Eel Mousse with Watercress Sauce

This is one of the recipes that when I started this project, really made me shudder. However, as I have cooked a couple of eel recipes, I have discovered that I quite like the slippery critter and it no longer seemed such a challenge. Plus all of the weird recipes thus far have turned out pretty good and I have lost all squeamishness; I have a philosophy that in rich countries people eat things because they taste good, not because they need to simply survive.

This recipe is an update of the famous London dish – jellied eels. I have never tried them before and thought it rather a shame that the classic recipe isn’t in the book. Jellied eel is particularly associated with the East End of London though it was eaten throughout the city and appeared sometime in the eighteenth century. At that time, the Thames was crawling with eels and therefore many, many recipes were created. When eel consumption reached a peak during the Victorian era, the Thames had become pretty disgusting with pollution and there were not many eels around, so they had be imported from Ireland. These days, most Irish eels are exported to Holland.

If you wanted to buy jellied eels in London, you would have had to go to an Eel Pie and Mash House. There not many around – they declined in number from over a hundred after the Second World War to just a handful today. The most famous – and London’s oldest – extant Eel and Pie House is Manze’s in Peckham. I have never been to one of these places, but I shall try my best to frequent Manze’s next time I pop down to London. I doubt if they will ever regain popularity, even though eels have now returned to the River Thames.

Inside Menzie’s (photo from The Guardian)

This is an ‘updated’ recipe from chef Guy Mouilleron, who apparently thought of an eel slithering through a bank of watercress and thought the two might might together. The recipe is outdated; fish mousses are certainly a thing of the 1970s and 1980s; when English Food was first published.

Eels are quite difficult to get hold of, but the massive Asian supermarket in St Louis has farmed live ones – luckily I didn’t have to do away with them as I had to for the first time I cooked an eel dish. There is one more eel dish to do in the book, so I suppose I shall be trying that one soon.

To make the mousse, you need to prepare your eels. You’ll need around 2 ½ pounds of eel altogether. If you can get the fishmonger to skin and fillet them for you, all’s the better. I didn’t have such a luxury, but found it quite easy now that I have had certain amount of experience with eel preparation. First of all, give them a wash and wipe away any slime that may remain on the skin. To skin an eel, you first need to cut through the skin all around its neck, behind the gills. Next, either nail the head to a wooden chopping board or grasp the head with a tea-towel. Now you need to pull on the cut skin and peel the skin off like a stocking. It is quite difficult to get a purchase, so sprinkle the neck liberally with salt to create some much-needed friction. Once skinned, it is pretty easy going after that; gut it, cutting from the head-end to an inch or so past the vent so that the kidneys as well as the other internal organs can be removed. Filleting was a bit tricky – but really it was just like filleting any fish really. Use a sharp knife and cut from the head end to the tail end, pressing down on the fish with your other hand, which creates pressure and makes the cut much easier to make.

Cut away about a third of the messy parts and use trimmings to make the mousse itself.
To do this, you need to liquidise them in a blender along with three egg whites. You will produce a rather bad-looking blob of grey matter.
Place it in a bowl that is sitting in iced water. Whip ¾ of a pint of double cream until it is thick, but not stiff, and fold it into the eel mixture slowly. Season the purée and the neat eel pieces with salt, pepper and nutmeg.
All is prepared now for the construction of the mousse: you need to use a terrine for this, or failing that, a small loaf tin. If you want to turn out the mousse onto a serving dish, it is best to line it with cling film (don’t worry, it won’t melt). Now spread a third of the mixture over the bottom of the terrine and then add half of the eel fillets, then more mixture and so on, until all is used up.

Cover the terrine or tin with a double-layer of foil and then steam it for 1 ¼ hours. I used a fish kettle for this, but if you don’t have something appropriate, you can pop it in a roasting tin containing boiling water and bake it at 160-180C (325-350F). When cold, put it in the fridge overnight.

The next day, make the sauce. You need a good-sized bunch of watercress. From the bunch, pick and reserve enough leaves to make around a tablespoon when chopped. The rest, liquidise in the blender, using the smallest amount of water possible. Pass the watercress slurry through a sieve and add ¼ pint of double cream and whisk it until it thickens. Season and stir through the reserved, chopped leaves. Serve a slice of the mousse with a generous spoonful of the sauce.

#313 Jellied Eel Mousse with Watercress Sauce. My God, what a sight that one was! It looked like a massive chunk of cat food and the sauce was so garish. The taste of the mousse wasn’t too bad, but the texture seemed so wrong. If it had been eaten warm as a creamy stew, it probably would have been delicious. The mild fish and the grassy watercress did not go together in my opinion. A big shame because was waiting to be surprised by its loveliness. I think I would have been happier with some proper jellied eels. Keep the fish mousse where it belongs: in the past! 2/10

#310 Smoked Mackerel

There are ingredients for recipes in the book that I really thought I wouldn’t be able to find, and one of those is smoked mackerel. Smoked mackerel was a new addition to English cuisine at the time of writing English Food and these days it is quite easy to find in supermarkets. So why is there a problem? Well, Griggers says to keep away from the hot-smoked (i.e. cooked) mackerel as she says it often ends up as mush; no, only cold-smoked mackerel will do. When I lived in Britain, I had no luck finding anywhere that sells it. However, here in Saint Louis, as I was having a walk around Global Foods – a large international food market – what did I happen upon just sat there in the refrigerator as bold as brass? Yes, a large cold-smoked mackerel. It is amazing what you find when you’re not looking. It turns out that cold-smoked mackerel is very popular in Eastern Europe. It obviously didn’t catch on that well in England, though Griggers gets full marks for trying to push it.

Like many recipes in the Cured Fish section of the Fish chapter, this isn’t really a recipe, as there is no cooking involved, it’s really advice on how best to serve it.


First you need to fillet the fish, removing any bones, and arrange pieces of the fillet on a plate. I was pretty impressed with my presentation here; I’m not very good at that sort of thing normally. She suggests serving the mackerel with lemon quarters and brown bread and butter. Because there was no cooking involved, I felt it was a bit of a cop-out recipe, so I baked some bread myself. Jane also suggests making a gooseberry sauce flavoured with horseradish. There is zero chance of finding gooseberries here in Missouri so I couldn’t do that part, but it was just a suggestion, so I reckon I can let myself off…


#310 Smoked Mackerel. A delicious fish it was, no wonder Grigson wanted to get us all eating it. It was very much like eating smoked sashimi, which is certainly not a bad thing. It was much more firm and flavoursome than smoked salmon, which can often be weirdly gelatinous in its texture. The smoky flavour was excellent and bona fide; it smelled as though it had just been snatched from the smokehouse. I think cold-smoked mackerel might catch on these days; sushi is popular and people are much less likely to turn their noses up at raw (though perfectly-cured) fish. Hopefully it might get a second chance. 7/10.

#304 Water-Souchy

“And lo, Jesus said,
‘Hurry up lads, I am champing at the bit here.'”

There have been plenty of recipes in English Food that have seemed so unappealing on paper, but have turned out good. This one certainly didn’t sound good – a fish stew made from freshwater fish, a few basic vegetables and water. I think it’s the name that did it for me I think – I imagined a thin, watery, muddy-tasting soup. However, every recipe must be cooked and freshwater fish is a bit of a speciality in America, seeing as most of it is far away from the oceans. It would have been a tricky one to do in England without spending a fortune getting a variety of freshwater fish from the fishmonger, or going out and fishing for the buggers yourself. Here, you can just go to the supermarket and choose from a range.

So, water-souchy is a very rustic fish stew made from whatever the angler in the family brought home after a session in his or her waders in an idyllic stream in rural England. Obviously, I am not in England anymore, so I wanted the fish to reflect what I might have caught here on the Mississippi River if I could be arsed to fish there. I had a look in Seafood City, an Asian supermarket on Olive Boulevard in St Louis and bought myself some good fresh carp and catfish. Five pounds of fish are required, and cost me the princely sum of $7.50. Pretty good, I reckon, seeing as I’m rather poor at the moment.

Water-souchy became popular in the seventeenth century and remains so, at least in fishing circles. The word comes from the Dutch waterzootje, and has been described as the bouillabaisse of the Northern Latitudes. According to certain George Augustus Sala, writing in 1895 in Thorough Good Cook, ‘You rarely get it good, save at Greenwich. Why I cannot say‘. Well, it may be to do with the freshness of the fish, says Griggers, the quality of your water-souchy will be diminished if your fish is not perfectly fresh.

To make this simple stew, start off with five pounds of very fresh scaled and cleaned freshwater fish and cut them up into big chunks – no need to bone or fillet, for it is the bones that produce the stock and flavour the dish. Jane suggests perch or a mixture of fish such as perch, carp, eel &c. In a large saucepan, spread three ounces of butter over the base and cover that with the vegetables and herbs: two cleaned and chopped leeks, two chopped celery sticks, two tablespoons of chopped parsley and a bouquet garni. My bouquet garni was made up of a bay leaf, some parsley stalks, three fronds of dill and a crushed garlic clove all tied up in a bunch.

Season these well with salt and pepper and then place the chunks of fish on top. Season those too. Cover with water, bring to the boil and simmer with the lid on for about twenty minutes until the fish is cooked.

Serve in bowls, sprinkled with some croutons of bread fried in butter. I used stale sourdough bread for this, and they were very good, even if I do say so myself. ‘One eats water souchy with spoon and fork’, according to Mr Robert Pierpoint, writing in 1908. It’s the only way you can eat it really.

#304 Water-Souchy. Well as per usual the bad sounding recipe turns out to not be a dud at all. The stew was well-flavoured with the vegetables, herbs and the fish itself. It is really important to choose a pungent and tart herb like dill for something very simple like this I think as it livens things up no end. The fish was very moist, but the thing we all found a little off-putting was the bones. We are too used to eating neat steaks and filleted pieces of fish, I think; so the best way to improve this recipe, we decided, would be to fillet the fish and use the bones, and herbs to make a stock first, drain it, and then cook the vegetables and fish in the clear broth. Indeed, Eliza Acton suggests the same method in Modern cookery, in all its branches (1845). A good stew scoring 6/10 from me, but I think it could easily upped with some minor changes.

#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.