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Pan-fried mackerel with raw mushroom salad

For my hen weekend, my girlfriends took me fishing off Ramsgate harbour. I could barely conceal my excitement for the whole time we were at sea, which exposed a rather nasty side to my character, because 50% of my crew had extreme seasickness.

We were blessed with really calm conditions and sunny weather, and our guides told us the previous day’s excursion brought in a haul of nearly 200 mackerel. Unfortunately however, Rosie’s 20lb bass got away, and between the ten of us we only managed to catch one small dogfish and an even smaller gurnard.

Later this summer, I read that global warming is changing the fish population of our seas, with gurnard, sea bass and sardines taking place of native cod and haddock that are seeking cooler waters. We threw our gurnard back because he was too diddy, so I can’t tell you how he fared in batter, but I’m all for us breaking our reliance on the boring ‘big five’: salmon, cod, haddock, tuna and prawns.

I admit I was disappointed that we didn’t pull in any mackerel to barbecue on the beach. Mackerel is one of my favourite fish, and fortunately it is also one of the more sustainable, and cheap, fish available in the UK. Good reason to take another fishing trip, I think, but until the weather improves again, I’ve been making do with the mackerel from my local Waitrose which works out at about £1 per portion.

For my recent supper club, the main course was mackerel in black butter served with new potatoes and a raw mushroom salad. The menu was entirely based on my grandma’s Ration Recipes cookbook, with a little creative license applied by myself. My grandma didn’t specify which fish she cooked how, preferring to note down sauces and methods that could be applied to whetever catch was available.

Particular favourites, it seems, were grilled fish with ‘piquant sauce’ and fish in black butter with or without capers. If you have a fresh, beautifully flavoured fish like mackerel, I don’t think you need do any more than fry it in a little butter. Like my grandma, I often throw a few capers into the butter right at the end, but I find they aren’t entirely necessary if you serve the fish with a sharp salad such as this, with raw mushroom.

The raw mushroom salad is also from my grandma’s book. I’m not sure whether she would have served it with fish, but it works perfectly with oily, rich mackerel. Steeping the mushrooms in a vinegar solution for two hours draws out the water, leaving them firm and silky. If served with fish, the dressing is enhanced by adding a little tarragon, but the salad works beautifully as a side dish with just a little parsley, or chervil, if available.

Winifred’s raw mushroom salad

Works brilliantly with oily fish and equally well without.

Serves 4

1 lb chestnut mushrooms, sliced thinly
2 shallots, very finely chopped
15oml white wine or white balsamic vinegar
150ml water4 tbsp good quality olive oil
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper
2 tbsp parsley, very finely chopped

Combine the sliced mushrooms and chopped shallot in a bowl and pour over the white wine vinegar and water. Stir well, cover and leave for two to three hours. Stir again once or twice during this time.

When ready to serve, strain the mushrooms and shallots out of their liquid, which will have increased substantially in quantity, reserving just a little of the vinegar. Combine the olive oil, Dijon, herbs and seasonings in a bowl and stir well. Dress the mushroom salad in the oil and taste, if you prefer it a little sharper, drizzle over a little of the preserved vinegar water.

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About Chloe King

I'm a freelance writer, designer and webby type. I live with my husband and daughter in the south of England. I like to cook and can throw a good party.

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