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Norman mackerel with gooseberries

Pump and fishing boat in the channel

A fishing boat in the Channel, with pump, by R.A.C. Brooks

Six servings.

We are comfortable in offering this French recipe to readers of britishfoodinamerica because it likely originated in England, where gooseberries proliferate and find their way into all manner of food, the pairing of this fish and fruit traditionally is widespread, “and gooseberry sauces are more common in our old cookery books than in French ones.” (Fish Book 32)

-4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
-1 lb topped and tailed gooseberries
-6 Tablespoons breadcrumbs
-6 oz crème fraiche
-6 individual serving sized mackerel, gutted and slashed (see the notes)

  1. Melt half of the butter over medium heat and cook the gooseberries, covered, until they soften, and add sugar to taste.
  2. Mix 1/3 of the cooked gooseberries with the breadcrumbs, season the dressing with salt and pepper, and spoon it into the cavities of the fish.
  3. Add the crème fraiche to the gooseberries in the pan and season them with salt and pepper too.
  4. Cook the mackerel on a charcoal grill or under the broiler (or ‘grill’ in Britain) for about 10 minutes total time per inch of fish (that is, about 5 minutes per side).
  5. Meanwhile, gently reheat the sauce, cut the remaining butter into the sauce, and serve it with the fish.

Still more notes:

- Slashing whole fish makes sense but may require explanation. Round fish like mackerel will of course vary in circumference along the length of their hulls. The aim simply is to make the depth of flesh consistent for even cooking, so make two or three cuts into the fish on each side at its rounder points.

- According to Bareham, snotching “is arguably the best way of cooking fresh-from-the-sea herring or mackerel. It is certainly the simplest. ‘Snotch’ is a Cornish term that means slashing the fish two or three times in the middle of both sides so that the plump middle of the fish cooks as quickly as the thinner ends.” (Fish Store 51) Hers is a better description of slashing than ours and adds some Cornish color. Remember to snotch your smaller blues too.

- Mrs. Grigson notes that fresh cranberries or currants, or rhubarb, may stand in for the gooseberries.

- Mrs. Grigson does not add any sugar to the dressing; if you want a really sour dressing, add sugar to the sauce at Step 3.

- She suggests serving lots of whole wheat (or ’brown’) bread with the fish.

- Once again, bluefish is equally good here.

- Charles Boulbol, always living large, invariably grills bluefish over charcoal after filleting the meat and slathering it in seasoned lemon juice and Worcestershire; an excellent method.

- In another instance of translation, if a less instructive one, Davidson notes that “[t]he French name maquereau also means pimp, no doubt in allusion to the brilliance of the colours.” (Atlantic Seafood 126) Now although pimps have been known for the flamboyance of their attire and conveyances, it is not altogether clear what Davidson means by this.

- Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recycles this story with equal ambiguity, noting of mackerel that “[i]n France, they may consider his style a little de trop: the French name, maquereau, also means pimp.” This also begs the question whether the mackerel or the pimp was the chicken or the egg. (The Fish Book, London 2007, 444) We admit to guessing that linguistically the fish is mother to the heel.

- The Editor is not enamored of all of Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recipes for mackerel, but a couple of them are noteworthy. As in one of the britishfoodinamerica recipes for trout, he likes to crisp a handful of bacon batons before dredging his mackerel in oatmeal and frying it in the fat and topping the cooked fish with its bacon. (Fish 319) The same timing guideline from Step 5 applies to this preparation. Another one of his recipes flavors mackerel with cider and also adds apple slices, bay, and onion, which marry well with the oily fish, but then Fearnley-Whittingstall bakes the fish in a foil parcel, which in our opinion cannot sufficiently cut the oily flavor. Better, in the Editor’s opinion, to marinate the fish in those ingredients for an hour before grilling it brushed with a little olive oil while cooking the marinade down separately to serve as sauce. For four people, you will want a lot of bay, 8 leaves, a thinly sliced apple and onion, and enough hard cider almost to cover a single layer of fish. Before grilling the fish, tuck the bay leaves into their cavities and reduce the marinade until just about syrupy.