I used to be funny about fish (and I don’t mean that I had one of those oddly specific standup shows that keep turning up on Netflix – Norm MacDonald on Hitler’s dog, anyone…?). I couldn’t really hack the texture, and I was slightly repulsed by the tiny bones. I loved prawns and shellfish, but if I was ever served a piece of fish at someone else’s house – usually salmon – I contorted my face into a half grin, and forced each mouthful down whilst I wept inwardly.
It’s odd, because as a boy, a friend and I used to pitch up at our local fishmongers first thing in the morning – before school – to help take in the crates. At first we would stand by the van, watching intently and asking questions (‘what’s that one?’, ‘what’s that one?’, ‘what’s that one?’). Eventually the fishmongers gave us a metal rod each, and let us pull crates into the shop, where we were allowed to drag them right through to the huge cold-room, which looked like a Bond film-esque bank vault. This was incredible to us, in those heady days! The fishmonger probably thought he had struck gold – a couple of wee chaps working for free (plus the occasional fish cake on the way home) before the millenial 5 year internship had been invented. I loved being let into the inner sanctum of the High Guild of Fishmongers’ Circle (a secret society I’ve just made up), and learning about all the different kinds of fish, – and yet, I struggled to eat the stuff. As a passionate eater, I knew that this was unsustainable.
I weaned myself onto fish following a bold choice of main course at Cat’s graduation meal. We ate at Two Fat Ladies at The Buttery, in Glasgow – a renowned seafood joint – and I thought that the time had come. I remember the dish vividly, a beautiful piece of monkfish tail, speared with rosemary and wrapped in pancetta. The fish was meaty and moist, herbal and salty, and I wolfed it down. I love fish now, but I’m still a bit reticent to eat supermarket fish. Something to do with the freshness and handling. Given my proclivity for hanging about produce shops, and my proximity to a great fishmongers, this is not a problem.
Not long after The Boy was born, I started working in Leith (Edinburgh). Not far from my new office was the fantastic Welch fishmongers. I recently started eating lunch at my desk and taking a brisk half hour walk in my break to keep my legs moving. Welch’s is just outside the half hour round trip radius (especially with all the chat I like to dole out), but it’s worth the nip and tuck with my flexi-time. Last week I bought some of their own hot smoked salmon (from their smokehouse in the old fish market next door), some hake (which is currently bubbling away in a Mumbai-style curry with plenty of ginger, garlic, and coconut), and two beautiful fillets of mackerel.
I picked up some crisp fresh Yorkshire forced rhubarb, and a wee kohlrabi from Quay Commons – my daily flat-white spot, and lovely produce purveyor – and set off for home, salivating.
The rhubarb cuts through the oily fish like a knife, and the waxy potatoes crisp up beautifully when sliced to expose multiple surfaces. I also added a few dill pickled radishes I made a while back, but any pickled veg would be lovely with this (if you can be arsed).
Some of this recipe is a bit of a faff. The rhubarb crisps – whilst lifting the dish with a crunchy sharpness – can be left out if need be. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that you could just do the roast rhubarb or the compote (with a preference for the latter if only one makes it onto your plate) – and the tatties could be boiled or simply roasted. It is worth pulling out all the stops, cooking the rhubarb three ways, and hasselback-ing your tatties – I’m just saying you don’t have to.
Crisp fried mackerel, hasselback tatties, kohlrabi remoulade, and rhubarb three ways.
- A wee kohlrabi (celeriac would work, too) – grated or chopped into matchsticks
- 1.5 tbsp mayonaise
- Juice of half a small lemon
- 1 tsp English mustard
- Charlotte potatoes (or any other small waxy variety)
- Good glug of rapeseed oil
- Sea salt (to taste)
- 2 large sticks of rhubarb
- 1 tbsp cider vinegar
- 2 tsp coriander seeds
- 1 tbsp caster sugar
- 100ml veg oil for deep frying
- 2 fillets of fresh unsmoked mackerel
- Kohlrabi leaves
- Mix the grated kohlrabi with the mayo, lemon, mustard, a pinch of salt and a grind of pepper, and set aside.
- Preheat oven to 180C (gas 4)
- Slice half a stick of rhubarb into crisps – as thin as you can get them. pop them in a sieve over a bowl, and salt liberally. Set aside for 20 mins to drain liquid.
- Slice potatoes 3/4 deep across their width using two chopsticks as a guide (see pic below). place on a tray, drizzle with oil, sprinkle with salt.
- Chop 1 stick of rhubarb into rough 2-3cm chunks. Make space on the potato tray, and slide the rhubarb in to roast alongside them. Pop in the oven for 35-40 mins, basting the potatoes half way.
- Chop half a stick of rhubarb into rough 1cm chunks and combine with the vinegar, coriander seed, and sugar in a pan over a low heat, stirring occasionally. Allow that to cook until the rhubarb has softened into a mush, and then adjust sweetness to taste.
- Squeeze liquid out of rhubarb crisps in a piece of kitchen roll.
- Heat the veg oil to 180C in a small pot (be really careful – especially if cooking with gas). Fry the crisps for 1 minute in small batches. Keep an eye on them – they burn quickly!
- When there are about 10 mins left on the tatties and roast rhubarb, heat an oven-safe frying pan over a medium-high heat, and splash in a bit of rapeseed oil. Once the oil is shimmering hot, salt the fish skin, and lay the fillets into the pan skin side down – taking care to place them into the oil away from your body to avoid splashing. After around 2 mins, transfer the pan to the oven for another 7 minutes (or until the fish reaches 60C – I use my Thermapen a lot).
- Finally, sauté the kohlrabi greens in a little butter and water until tender.
- Serve with wedge of lemon, and enjoy!