#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

#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.

#352 Laverbread and Bacon

A couple of weekends ago, Hugh and I popped down to Swansea for a wedding. It is a very nice city, with a very nice market. Whilst there I was very keen to get hold of some Welsh laverbread; there are a few recipes that use it so I bought a couple of tubs. I am always keen to try new foods and I had never eaten laverbread; always excited to see another species added to my list!
Laverbread does not contain any bread, but is in fact a species of seaweed found on the rocky seashore of Wales and is rarely seen outside of the borders. It is however, available online pretty easily if you’re not in or near Wales.
Plate from an unknown book – laver is number 4
 
According to my Traditional Welsh Recipes teatowel, to make laverbread, you need wash your laver (the algae Porphyra laciniata) and, without any additional water, simmer it until it becomes dark green gelatinous pulp – about 4 hours. Drain the leaves and chop them, adding salt to taste; and there you have it, laverbread, or bara lawr as the Welsh call it. Laverbread is traditionally fried in small balls or patties in bacon fat. It doesn’t take long because the laverbread is already cooked.
 
There are several seaweed based recipes in English Food, I have already covered one using the seaweed dulse, yet no one in England really eats it, and the tradition is slowly dying in the two remaining seaweed-eating nations in the British Isles: Wales and Ireland. In the past everyone used to eat it, but like many foods labelled ‘peasant food’ a stigma was, and still is, attached. It is strange that in most other countries people are so enthusiastic about their peasant foods – they are the comfort foods! – yet most of us turn our noses up at them.
Didn’t mean to get into a lecture there, but whatever falls out of brain ends up on the post. Anyways, as a rookie to the ways of laverbread and how to cook it, it went for this simple recipe that would hopefully be a good introduction.
Take a pound of prepared laverbread and mix in enough fine oatmeal to make soft, coherent dough. Roll into balls and flatten slightly. Fry in bacon fatfor a few minutes per side or until nice and golden brown.
 
Serve with bacon in a mixed grill or a fried breakfast. I did something a little healthier and used the bacon I fried to flavour vegetable soup, and used the laverbread patties almost as dumplings.
#352 Laverbread and Bacon. Well I have to say I was impressed with the laverbread. I was subtly flavoured with iodine just as mussels and oysters are, but there was no fishiness to it. If I was living in Wales, laverbread and bacon would definitely be on my Sunday breakfast list. 7/10.
 

#343 Oyster Stuffing and #344 Oyster Sauce

Oysters are rather expensive in the UK and it can be a rather arduous task shucking them, though in the US, they are much cheaper and often come in tubs preshucked in their own liquor ready for cooking. It is for these reasons that I have been trying to finish all the recipes in English Food that include oysters before I return to England in a little over a month’s time. These two are the final oyster recipes. Not only that, by cooking these recipes I have completed the Stuffings section of the Stuffings, Sauces & Preserves chapter. This might sound impressive, but if you clicked on the link, you’ll have seen that there were only five in the section, and one of those was a sauce!

These are two recipes that were made very popular during the Victorian era that put together shellfish and meat. I have grown to love this combination and so I was looking forward to cooking these. Past recipes on this vein are Chicken with Mussels, Beefsteak Stewed with Oysters as well as the classic Steak, Kidney and Oyster Pudding (and pie!).

I’m not going to blog the two individually because they cannot really be made separately. The first is a light stuffing made with classic stuffing ingredients like breadcrumbs and suet. The second is a simple béchamel sauce flavoured with liquor collected from the oysters used for the stuffing.

The quantities in the recipe are for a large turkey and it requires rather a lot of oysters – 4 to 5 dozen! You can halve the number if you are using the big Atlantic ones; it’s the equivalent to 2 tubs of the preshucked ones you see in supermarkets in the US.

If you do have to shuck your own, I have heard of a method that takes the pain out of it, though I have never tested it myself. Apparently, if you put your cleaned oysters in the freezer flat side facing up, they should magically open their shells after 10 minutes or so. The reason for this is that they go to sleep and relax their strong adductor muscle which you usually have to fight against with the shucking knife when you open them manually.

#343 Oyster Stuffing for Turkey and Other Poultry

Grigson says you can halve the quantities if using a large chicken, which is what I did. Even then, I found I still had plenty left over so I cooked it separately in an ovenproof dish.

First of all shuck 2 or 3 dozen oysters should you need to; do it over a sieve in a bowl so you can save the liquor for the oyster sauce. Chop the oysters, keeping the pieces large. Mix them into the other stuffing ingredients: 10 ounces of white breadcrumbs made from stale bread, 5 ounces of suet, 2 heaped tablespoons of parsley, the grated rind of a lemon, 2 heaped teaspoons of thyme, ¼ teaspoon of both nutmeg and mace, a good pinch of Cayenne pepper, 2 large beaten eggs, salt and pepper. It is important to mix these together rather loosely; there should be no dry breadcrumbs but at the same time it should not be mixed into to big ball of stodge.

Stuff the cavity of your poultry rather loosely – it will expand as it cooks – and truss the legs with some string. Also stuff it into the neck end too, if the flap of neck skin has been left on your bird, securing it with a couple of short skewers (I have noticed that the neck skin is usually removed in America). Any left over can be baked for thirty minutes in an ovenproof dish.

Roast the bird as normal, taking the total weight including stuffing when calculating the roasting time.

#344 Oyster Sauce

Open 2 dozen oysters, saving the liquor. Make a béchamel sauce by melting 2 ounces of butter in a saucepan then stir in two tablespoons of flour. Mix together with a wooden spoon to make a roux and cook on a medium heat for a couple of minutes. This is a white roux, so don’t let it colour. Add ½ pint of milk in 3 or 4 parts, stirring until the milk is absorbed and the roux smooth before adding more, then stir in ¼ pint of double cream and the reserved oyster liquor from the sauce and stuffing. Simmer for 20 minutes, stirring everyone now and again. This part could be done in advance if you need – make sure you cover the pan with a lid because a thick skin will quickly grow. Chop the oysters into good sized pieces and add them to the sauce. Heat through then season with salt, white pepper, grated nutmeg, Cayenne pepper and lemon juice. The sauce should be the ‘consistency of double cream’, says Griggers.

FYI: Mrs Beeton suggests using left-over oyster sauce in a fish pie which I think is a marvellous idea.

#343 Oyster Stuffing for Turkey and Other Poultry. This was amazing – the oysters were tender and the stuffing was light, the flavour being lifted by the fresh herbs and the aromatic lemon zest.

#344 Oyster Sauce. This was a beautiful white and well-flavoured sauce mildly spiced with a wonderful iodine tang from all that oyster liquor. Absolutely delicious.

I can’t score these separately as they would never be made separately; that said this one is a no-brainer: 10/10.

#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.

#338 Beefsteak Stewed with Oysters

This is the third and final recipe that uses the classic combination of beef and oysters. I was so dubious about it at first but now I relish and look forward to recipes like this. This one is a simple stew that is easy to prepare and uses few ingredients. It probably was at its peak of popularity in Victorian times – I have mentioned before a few times how oysters were so cheap they were used as a seasoning. The final product isn’t overly fishy as one might expect.

This will feed between 3 and 5 people depending upon greediness.

Start with your oysters; you need to prepare 18 of the buggers. However, this is only if you are using the small British ones, if you are using the large Pacific or Atlantic ones, you can get away with half or even a third of the amount. Luckily, being in the USA at the moment it is pretty easy to find the little bivalves pre-shucked in tubs in their own liquor. If you can’t get hold of the pre-shucked kind, I hear you can easily open them by putting them flat side up in the freezer and when the oysters fall asleep they open up. I have never tested this so it may all be nonsense. However you get your oysters, make sure you drain them well through a sieve and keep the liquor.

Next, the beefsteak – any kind ‘will do for this recipe, from chuck to rump’ – you need 1 ½ pounds in all. Cut it into large neat pieces and season well with salt and pepper. Melt 2 ounces of butterin a large deep pan with a lid and brown the beef, in batches if necessary. Once that job is done, add around ½ pint of water and the oyster liquor. Cover, bring to a simmer and cook until tender between one hour and 90 minutes depending on the cut of meat.

Whilst it gently bubbles away, mash together ½ ounce of butter with a rounded teaspoon of flour.  When the meat is ready, add 2 ounces of port and stir the butter and flour mixture in small knobs until the sauce thickens. You might not want to add it all. I like a sauce on the thick side so I did. Don’t let the sauce boil hard though. Next add the oysters – if large, cut into two or three pieces – and season with salt and pepper. Heat the oysters through for a couple of minutes – no longer, or they’ll be rubbery.

‘Serve very hot’, says Griggers, with triangles of bread fried in butter‘tucked around the sides’.

#338 Beefsteak Stewed with Oysters. I love this combination so much! What a shame there are no more recipes left like this. The water had become a rich but not overpowering sauce that goes so well with the iodine-scented oysters. The fried bread was a great contrast in texture and the recipe is so easy and quick compared to a pie or pudding too. It is such a shame that oysters are so expensive. I am wondering if mussels could be used as a substitute. This one is going to remain a staple whilst I am in the USA where oysters are cheap! 10/10.

#320 Steak, Kidney and Oyster Pie

A while ago I made an extremely similar recipe – steak, kidney and oyster pudding. A seminal English dish that I had saved for the landmark 200th recipe. This pie essentially follows the same history (and recipe) as the pudding – the combination of the three main ingredients seems to start with Mrs Beeton. I have found similar recipes going back further like oyster pie, beef-steak and oyster pie, veal and oyster pie and calves’ foot and kidney pie. I could go on, but I shan’t, I think you get the message. The pudding was delicious so there was no way this could be a fail…

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It is worth mentioning my supplier for the beef again – I got it from Missouri Grass Fed Beef, the boss, Jeremy, gave my the kidney for nothing as well! Good man.
This pie uses exactly the same filling as the pudding, so click the link here to find out how to make it; it’s pretty straight-forward stuff. The important thing to note is to check how much and how watery the gravy is before you add the oysters – if there is alot, strain the gravy and boil it down until it darkens and thickens. You need to make it thicker that you would think, because you add oyster liquor to it when it has cooled.
Put the cold filling in a pie dish and get the pastry ready. You can use either puff or shortcrust pastry for the pie. I went for puff. Roll the pastry out and cut strips of pastry about half an inch wide to cover the rim of the pie dish, using water as glue. Griggers says to let the strips hang inwards a little to prevent hot filling from leaking out.
Brush the pastry rim with more water and cover the pie. Crimp down the edges so that the pastry is well-secured. Then Jane says to scallop the edges if you have shortcrust pastry or nick the pastry if puff pastry, after that make a central hole and a leaf design from any trimmings. I hardly had any trimmings left as I didn’t really have enough pastry. Lastly, make a pastry rose with a stem and fit it loosely into the central hole, then give the whole thing an egg glaze.
Bake for around 45 minutes at 220-230⁰C (425-450⁰F).
#320 Steak, Kidney and Oyster Pie – well I already knew this was going to be good seeing as I have essentially made this before, but just to reiterate: absolutely amazing. The combination of rich wine gravy, the metallic kidney and the creamy iodine finish of the oysters is fantastic. Mrs Beeton should be made a saint! 9/10.