Yesterday morning, our host took four teenagers out on the boat to catch mackerel and set creels (in that order, because you need mackerel as bait to catch lobster). They also went to the beach, where they found mussels. So when they returned, just before supper, they had a large bucket of mussels (they'd scraped the barnacles and pulled the beards on the way back in the boat), and a huge basket of smallish mackerel.
Bridget made moules marinieres in a huge saucepan, using a whole bottle of white wine for the "soup". Delicious. We threw the shells into champagne buckets (the house in which we are staying used to be a hotel, and has a great deal of useful kit which is not found in most private houses). Roast chicken to follow.
Many of the mackerel will be used for lobster bait, straight from the freezer. A neighbour here on Mull is a particularly successful lobster fisherman, and this is his secret: he puts his bait in a large plastic tub, covers it in salt, then seals it and leaves it for a year to ripen ... the smell is appalling, but the lobsters like it!
Meanwhile, for the second year running, we made this delicious gravad max, from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's River Cottage Cookbook. This needs to be made at least a day in advance, but is better left for two or three days beforehand.
For 10 large or 20 small mackerel
Mix: 100g caster sugar, 75g coarse salt, and a handful of chopped fennel sprigs (HFW says dill, but that's not growing round here).
Fillet the fish. This can be done in one of two ways - either use a sharp knife to take a fillet off each side of an ungutted fish, or behead and gut the fish, slit them open, press them flat and then tease out the backbone.
Layer the cure and the fillets in a plastic box (DO NOT use metal). Start with cure, then fish skin side down, then cure, then fish skin side up &c. When you've finished, weight the whole thing down with a board and some bottles or tins (if you are using tins, then you must put them into another, smaller, plastic box). HFW has a third layer, because he puts the fish into a perforated (wooden) box, and therefore needs something to catch the drips. We've dispensed with this, because his instructions tell you to baste the fish with the drippings from the fish box, and I always like to simplify things to make life a little easier when possible.
After one, two or three days, your fish is ready to eat - cut it with a sharp knife at an angle towards the skin, as if you were cutting smoked salmon. Serve with lemon juice, a little green salad, and plenty of good bread. HFW makes a creme fraiche sauce flavoured with mustard vinegar and dill, but we may not bother with that (it will rather depend on what we find in the fridge).
Last year, Craig brought fish fresh from the sea, and filleted them for us in moments with his very sharp knife (and superior knife skills). This year, a work party gutted the fish, and we all then wished we'd filleted them, because teasing the backbones out of very fresh raw fish is time-consuming (Ola, pictured below, did the most). HFW says that filleting them whole is more wasteful - that may be, but it's certainly much quicker, and a great deal less trouble. If you're buying the fish, none of this need trouble you, just get the fishmonger to do it for you!
This is wonderfully good for you, free if you're lucky (or pretty cheap if you buy the fish), and a really good dish to make for a crowd or a party, because you do the bulk of the preparation well in advance. It's also a delicious treat.
PS I think you could do this with any oily fish, and when I get home, back to Oxfordshire, the English county furthest from the sea in every direction, I will try it with whatever oily fish I can buy.
Friday flowers - Jonquils and silver, J.D. Fergusson, 1905. The Fergusson exhibition in the Scottish National Galleries' Scottish Colourist Series opens in Edinburgh tomorrow...
2 days ago