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Gooseberry sauce

Some kind of gooseberry sauce for mackerel appears in virtually every English cookbook. The recipes look like page padding and sound incongruous but, in fact, are delicious with any oily fish. Try it with branzino, striped bass, sea bass, even speckled trout and the like. This version is based on Jane Grigson’s from English Food (London 19 __ ) and is laughably easy (except for the inevitable, laborious topping and tailing of the berries).

-½ lb (about a cup) of green gooseberries, topped and tailed
-2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
-sugar to taste (you will need some)
-about ¼ teaspoon mace (optional)
-½ cup scalded heavy cream

  1. Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat, add the gooseberries, stir in the sugar and mace if you want it, reduce the heat to low and cover the pot.
  2. Cook the sauce until the berries soften, then mash but do not puree them; the finished sauce should have some texture.
  3. Stir in the cream, reheat the sauce and serve it with the fish.

Further notes:

- Mrs. Grigson repeats the recipe in the Fish Book and adds two others for gooseberry sauce; her original version does not scald the cream as we do but the Fish Book variant instructs her reader to boil it.

- A second version essentially offers the reader the alternative of ground ginger for the mace (or a combination of the two) and substitutes béchamel for the cream and is a little trickier: Stir 3 Tablespoons of it into the sauce instead of the cream at Step 3 but ensure that the sauce does not subsequently boil. (See Fish Book 32-33)

- The third version from the Fish Book retains the bechamel and essentially substitutes chopped fennel leaves, nutmeg and pepper for the mace and cream.

- Lindsey Bareham likes gooseberry sauce too, and offers a minimalist recipe for it in The Fish Store (London 2006):

“Gooseberry sauce is lovely with grilled mackerel. Make it by simmering topped and tailed gooseberries with a little sugar until very soft and then cooking them with a scoop of clotted cream until thick and sauce-like.” (Fish Store 52-53)

- Bareham is not always consistent. Elsewhere she uses canned rather than fresh gooseberries without explanation for either preference. She also has an inexplicable predilection for ghastly stock cubes. (See, e.g., Fish Store 58-59, 144)

- The recipes in her newspaper columns can be disappointing as well; one of them has resulted in a ‘Pizza Delivery’ to britishfoodinamerica. Then again Bareham shows good judgment much of the time. For example, Alton Brown has described cumin as his default spice, and Bareham likes it too:

“Mackerel is the perfect fish for strong seasoning and works wonderfully well when grilled with a liberal scattering of cumin. The smoky flavour of this haunting spice is a good foil to the silky but oily flesh of the mackerel.” (Fish Store 58)

- Our own Curmudgeonly Raconteur long has been a devotee of cumin and offers sound advice for its employment: ‘If you’re going to use it, you’ve got to use a lot of it.’ The spice is, paradoxically, both subtle and assertive. It can get lost in small amounts, and while its flagrant use will characterize the flavor of a dish, it seldom overwhelms the other ingredients.

- Biddy White Lennon cooks a Tablespoon of chopped fennel leaves with the other ingredients but omits mace and cream in her recipe for gooseberry sauce from Traditional Irish Cooking (Dublin 1990). The recipe likely is cribbed from Mrs. Grigson’s, which first appeared in print in 1973.

- Gooseberries can be difficult to find in the United States, but a similar if misnamed fruit, ‘Cape gooseberries,’ show up, even in supermarkets, during midsummer. Their flavor is neither as complex nor as bitter as true gooseberries, but they have a magnificent advantage; you need neither to top nor tail them. They require less sugar than the real item.

- The Editor unfortunately is not Francophone, but she does read English, and according to Jane Grigson the French term for gooseberry is groseilles a maquereau. Despite the etymological association, however, Mrs. Grigson’s research disclosed but a single French recipe for mackerel with gooseberries, from Normandy. It is a lovely preparation.