Sunday, July 6, 2014

#395 Red Herrings

Here’s a recipe – or, rather an entry with advice – from English Food that I thought I would never get to cook for two reasons. The first was that I suspected that Jane was having a little joke at our expense and that her entry on red herrings was actually a red herring in itself! Having only ever used the expression and never laying eyes on the food, the penny did not drop for a good while that the saying must have come from somewhere. So, after looking in a few other books I decided red herrings were, in fact, real.

The Red Herring Freehouse, Great Yarmouth
According to Jane’s entry, they are made in Great Yarmouth, and although they have fallen out of favour her in the UK, they are shipped over to the Caribbean in their droves where they are still a very popular food, indeed, a staple food:
Once they were slave food, now they are a food for the poor, a cheap, storable, provider of protein.
So if they are made in abundance on the south coast of England, a few must escape the net and show up in England itself, right? First I looked online, then in Afro-Caribbean shops in Manchester. Not a whiff. Then, when I lived in America, I detected a scent; apparently they are widely available in Afro-Caribbean stores. Well, not in any of the ones I looked in!
I was ready to give up hope, but then, when I returned to Manchester after my two-year hiatus, I eventually found somewhere that sold them, and that place was an online store called the Smelly Alley Fish Company, Reading. Hooray!
I ordered four and eagerly awaited their arrival. In the meantime I had to work out what to do with them.

Before I tackle any recipes, I’d better tell you what a red herring actually is.
A red herring is a heavily brined and smoked whole herring, rather like a bloater, except it is brined for at least a week, dried, and then cold smoked for at least four weeks. It is this extreme curing that gives both its red coloration and its unbelievably long shelf life so that it can easily survive long journeys and the humidity of the Caribbean.
The red herring cure originated in Scotland, but the herring fished in the North Sea were fatty; making them delicious, but decreasing their shelf life. However, the herring caught off the south coast of England at Great Yarmouth had little fat, and therefore were perfect for trade, eventually outcompeting Scotland.
Red herrings were a staple food for poor people living inland during the Middle Ages, especially during Lenten days, and predated the kipper, which is a relatively new invention.
I love Dorothy Hartley’s description of them from her 1954 classic Food in England:
Red Herrings are a form of super-salted bloater, very popular on the western seaboard, specially [sic] in Ireland. They produce a terrible thirst – all artists seem to like them: I cannot account for this. Rudyard Kipling makes his “Hal o’ the Draft” cook salt herrings in the Cathedral, but he provides the only corroborative authority that I can produce for this notable dietetic discovery.
Note: At Hogmanay, if the [sic] Glasgow friend wishes you well, he slips a red herring down his sleeve into the palm of his hand as he grasps it.
Next New Year’s Eve, I shall try that trick.
Now we know what a red herring is, why is it used in the famous idiom? Red herrings were used as a method of training hunting hounds. A false trail using the pungent red herring would be laid so that the training hound or hounds could be taught to ignore the obvious strong scent and pick up the faint and subtle scent of their hare or fox quarry. Hence, when someone is falsely distracted from their path or purpose, they have been given a red herring. Every day’s school day.
So what do you do with your red herring, once you have found it? Well, here are Jane Grigson’s instructions, which as per the rules of the game, I must follow:
If you ever manage to buy some, soak them well in water or milk. Then grill them or toast them in front of the fire, basting them with butter or olive oil. Serve them with scrambled eggs or potatoes mashed with plenty of butter. Or think of them as anchovies, to be used as a relish rather than a main food.
All good so far, but they are so dry, I wasn’t sure how long to soak them for. Hours? Days? I needed more instruction.
In Good Things in England (1932), Florence White gives us an 1823 Great Yarmouth recipe:
  1. Choose those that are large and moist.
  2. Cut them open, and pour over them some boiling small beer.
  3. Let them soak half an hour, then drain and dry them.
  4. Make them just hot through before the fire, and rub them over with cold butter.
  5. Serve with egg sauce or buttered eggs; mashed potatoes should also be sent up with them.
All well and good, but mine were not moist, but as dry and hard as if mummified.
Here’s a recipe from a lady called Meg Dodd’s, via The Scots Kitchen: Its Lore & Recipes (1929) by F Marian McNeill:
Skin, open, and trim red herring. If old and dry, pour some hot small beer or water over them and let them steep a half-hour, or longer if hard. Broil them over a clear fire at a considerable distance, or before the fire; rub them with good oil or fresh butter while broiling, and rub on a little more when they are served. Serve them very hot with cold butter, or with melted butter and mustard, and mashed potatoes or parsnips.
And finally, from the Smelly Alley Fish Company’s own website:
To cook them, soak for 48 hours, then fry with tomatoes - a great breakfast! They are great as they are (they don't need to be cooked), and as they are very salty, you might need a pint of beer to drink with them.

I took Jane’s instruction and soaked them in milk, in the end, overnight. The next morning, the house awoke to the pungent smell of soaked red herrings. I fished them out of their now rufous milky marinade and grilled them smeared in butter, serving them with eggs for breakfast.
They were still pretty dry after all that soaking, though the roes found inside were nice and soft, and quite possibly the saltiest things I have ever eaten in my life. Trying to eat the flesh of the herring was tricky as it could not be parted easily from the bones. I had, as warned, a huge thirst, and the smell of red herring had still permeated my little terrace a week later.
#395 Red Herrings. What to say of red herrings!? Well they did taste good, but they were so unbelievably strong in flavour, and so difficult to eat (think fish jerky) I barely ate half of one. I think I need to revisit them following advice from those other recipes. A slow simmer in some hot milk might be a good idea, to help rehydrate the fish, or give a two-day cold soaking, but I think that it might be best cut with plenty of butter as potted red herrings or something like that. I have two left, so shall keep you posted on that one. Score? 7/10 I think, because the flavour was great, given even its pungency, it just needs taming!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

#394 Venison Sauce

Here’s a quickie for you – a very easy venison sauce that uses port; there are several with the most famous being #45 Cumberland Sauce (made all the way back in 2008!).

It’s funny, you’d think this simple sauce to accompany venison, as well as other furred game such as #393 Hare, would have been around for yonks, but no, it’s relative newcomer being invented by Queen Victoria’s chef, Charles Elmé Francatelli.

This sauce has but four ingredients: two tablespoons of port wine, eight ounces of redcurrant jelly, a small, bruised stick of cinnamon and the pared rind of a lemon. Boil these ingredients together in a small saucepan, pass through a sieve and serve immediately!
#394 Venison Sauce. Well this was a most delicious sauce that was very sweet and rich. You don’t need much of it but it does perfectly suit those dark, furred game meats, like venison, hare, and (a new species to be added to the list of legal game) grey squirrel. Very good, though not quite as good as the Cumberland Sauce. Apologies for the terrible photo, but I was a bit tipsy after the hare ordeal. 7/10.

Monday, May 26, 2014

#393 Hare

The poor old hare has had its ups and downs throughout British history. Before I go on, I should point out that there are two species of hare in mainland Britain (and three in Ireland); the indigenous mountain hare that ranges across Scotland and Northern England as well as much of Northern Europe, which turns a beautiful white in the wintertime. The other species is the brown hare, which was introduced to Britain by the Romans in farms, called leprosaria, during the 1st century BC. Of course, it wasn’t long before some escaped and rapidly spread through England and into Wales.

Hares in Myth, Legend & Folklore
Back in pre-Christian days, Œstre the Pagan Goddess of dawn, fertility and rebirth had a hare that was her light-bearing guiding spirit. The hares’ behaviour during springtime – the boxing and leaping ‘Mad March Hares’ – readily associated with the new season. The hare was the original Easter Bunny – check a good dictionary and you’ll see that the bunny was another word for hare not rabbit! In fact, the hare that belonged to Œstre laid an egg - the original Easter egg!
Hares can apparently be easily tamed – it is said that Boudicca, Queen of the Icini tribe, had a pet hare that went with her everywhere.
However, the reverence was not to last once those pesky Christians arrived on British shores. The festival of the winter solstice became Christmas and the festival of Œstre became Easter. The name essentially stayed the same and several traditions and characters were kept such the Easter bunny and the celebration of the egg as new life – all to make the change from Pagan to Christian less of a bitter pill to swallow. However, Œstre herself and her hare were not treated so well; she became a witch, and the poor hare her familiar. Superstitions soon arose and it was considered very bad luck if a hare crossed your path.

Here’s an example found in a great book called Folklore of Yorkshire by Kai Roberts:
A farmer in a place called Commondale suspected that a witch called Au’d Molly was shape-shifting into a hare to steal the milk from his cows in the night. He was instructed to stand guard with a shotgun armed with silver bullets. However, the wily witch-hare sneaked up on him, leaping out, giving the farmer such a shock, he turned on his heel and fled.
Other hares were not so lucky; a witch in Eskdale was using her hare to gather together and control a mob of hares in order to wreak havoc in the town. In this case her hare was shot with a silver bullet, and the witch, at once, ‘flung up her hands as she was carding wool and cried, “They have shot my familiar spirit!” whereupon she fell down dead.’
Hunting Hares
Hares were chased – ‘coursed’ – through fields and caught in nets in elaborate set ups involving houunds. In fact, they were hunting hounds’ quarries long before foxes were hunted. Today, hunting with dogs is banned and so they are more commonly shot now, which used to be considered a terrible crime. Under Norman Forest Law, the hare became one of the noble beasts that could only be hunted by the King and other gentry.
However, in the late nineteenth century hares were declared vermin in Ground Game Act of 1880, where hares could be shot, snared and netted all year round. They had become a problem when modern farming methods were adopted and a single hare could eat 40 pounds of vegetation in a week! It became a hare free-for-all. Although they could be shot any time of the year, they could only be sold between August and February.
The declining hare population was then hit very hard during the myxomatosis outbreak in the 1970s. The laws created in 1880 still stand today.

Have a look at this previous post that briefly discusses hare conservation.
Hare Recipes
As with the other recipes in the Game section of the Meat, Poultry & Game chapter, the entry for hare is brief. Here it is:
roast (young hare only): lard, jacket of pork fat, 40 minutes per kilo (20 minutes per pound), mark 6, 200⁰C
serve with: forcemeat balls, redcurrant jelly, port wine sauces, e.g. venison sauce.
jugged or stewed (older hare): pages 208, 209
Click the links to see the recipes already cooked with older hare.
I had been putting this off after the disappointing roast #359 Rabbit I cooked a while ago. Plus, it’s important to get hold of a young hare. To tell if a hare is indeed young, its ears should tear easily. Of course, all the hares I get are skinned and headless. However, I did get hold one a small-looking one and assumed that it was also young.
To prepare the hare, I took to the books and found some good advice in The Game Cookbook by Clarissa Dickson-Wright and Johnny Scott and Food in England by Dorothy Hartley. The advice in both books was to truss the hare, sphinx-like, with string or skewers. I also larded it with streaky bacon and covered it in a good layer of back fat and pork skin and followed Jane’s cooking instructions.
When it comes to carving C D-W suggests slicing the meat from the saddle parallel to the backbone. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall suggests removing the saddle and roasting it alone.

#393 Hare. Well as much I tried trussing, larding and covering in swathes on fat, the hare turned out to be as dry and tough of old boots. The flavour was good but essentially the whole thing was disappointing. The veg, forcemeat balls and venison sauce were good though. 3/10

Sunday, April 27, 2014

#392 Scallops Stewed with Orange Sauce

This is a recipe that comes from the 18th Century that unusually combines shellfish with orange – in particular the Seville orange and this is the final recipe in the book that uses them. It’s been interesting to see the diverse recipes for these bitter oranges that I used to think were used solely for making marmalade. Now that I appreciate such things, I was looking forward to this one.

If you are not a fan of shellfish, Jane says that white fish such as sole and whiting can be substituted quite easily.

This recipe serves 6 people, but it can be easily scaled up or down.

Although it's not mentioned, use the corals in this recipe too. 
Waste not, want not!

To start, simmer together ¼ pint each of water and dry white wine along with a tablespoon of white wine vinegar, ½ teaspoon of ground mace and 2 cloves in a saucepan for 5 to 10 minutes or so. You have essentially made a very simple court bouillon. Season the water with salt and pepper, and then prepare your scallops. Cut 18 scallops in half lengthways and pop them into the water. The scallops need poached only briefly in just simmering water. I left mine in for 2 minutes only, though I reckon 90 seconds might have been better.

Quickly, fish out your scallops with a slotted spoon and keep them warm and covered. Strain the stock and reduce it to a volume of around 8 fluid ounces. Whilst you wait for that to happen, make a beurre manié by mashing together ½ ounce of softened butter with a tablespoon of flour.

When the stock has reduced, turn down the heat to a simmer and whisk in small knobs of the butter-flour mash to thicken the sauce. Let the sauce simmer without boiling for a few minutes to cook out the flour and then add the juice of a Seville orange (failing that the juice of a regular orange and the juice of half a lemon). Check the sauce for seasoning and add more salt and pepper if needed. If you want a richer, more luxuriant, sauce beat in an egg yolk and 3 tablespoons of cream. For some reason I added some parsley to the dish, though it doesn't say so in the recipe.

Place scallops in a bowl, pour over the sauce and serve straight away. Jane suggests serving the scallops with #176 Samphire or with #382 Laverbread as a Sauce.

#392 Stewed Scallops with Orange Sauce. Intriguing though the recipe was, it didn’t quite live up to my expectations. I didn’t think the flavour of the oranges and scallops married that well, perhaps because the sauce was rather sharp. I think with some tweaks, however, this could be made a lot better or even reimagined as a scallop and orange salad or something like that. Just below mediocre, 4.5/10.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

#391 Soft Roe Paste

The last of three recipes that use mackerel or herring roes.

There are two types of roe: hard and soft. The former comes from female fish and contains the egg, and the latter, sometimes called melts, are from the male fish and contain the sperm. This recipe, just like the other two, use soft roes. Eating the sperm sac of a fish might appear to be more of an ordeal than a pleasure, but they are tasty and can be picked up very cheaply at the fishmongers. Alternatively, when buying mackerel or herring, you can ask the fishmonger to keep behind any roes that might be present as he scales and guts them. At home, simply sequester them in a freezer bag until you have for a recipe. They are an acquired taste because they are very slightly bitter and so they lend themselves to creamy and buttery ingredients (for example see #159 Creamed Roe Loaves).
Jane makes a point for this recipe to try and buy nice neat matching pairs of roes, rather than just the cast offs that ‘have been flung on to a separate tray’. I would have thought that this recipe would be perfect for the roes that are so carelessly thrown onto the roe tray. Not that this happens anymore – because they are not so popular these days, you almost always have to buy frozen packs.

This recipe just shows how the British just loved to pot things: meat, fish, cheese. It can all be potted and preserved for a later date. In this case the roe paste will only last maybe 4 or 5 days in the fridge, but that’s a lot longer than raw roes would last.

To make your roe paste, first fry 7 ounces of soft herring or mackerel roes in an ounce of butter, then, Jane says, to pass them through a sieve.
 This was a tricky task, which was made much easier by the utilisation of my mouli-legumes. Beat the warm roes into 6 ounces of softened butter. Jane recommends using slightly salted butter, but I have to say, I prefer normal, salted, butter; after all you’ll only add more salt when it comes to seasoning later!
Next, mix in a tablespoon of double cream, then season with salt, Cayenne pepper and lemon juice. Finally add a little chopped parsley.

‘Serve chilled, but not chilled to hardness, with thin toast or baked sliced of bread.’

#391 Soft Roe Paste. I liked this paste, the bitter flavour of the roes was cut with the lemon, cream and parsley whilst still maintaining the roe flavour. However, it didn’t exactly make me do backflips. Good, but not great, and nowhere near the dizzy height of previous fishy pastes like #378 Elizabeth David’s Potted Crab. 5.5/10.

Friday, February 7, 2014

#390 Isle of Man Herring Pie

I’ve been putting this one off for ages because it starts with the sentence: “A very similar recipe to the [#133] Welsh Supper Herrings”. These were not good; pappy fishy cat food mush and raw potatoes. However, that was 5 years ago (5 YEARS!) and I like to think of myself as a better cook now than in those naïve days.
This recipe comes from a Mrs Suzanne Woolley who ran a restaurant called Mheillea (‘Harvest Man’) on the Isle of Man. Normally herrings would have been cooked with potatoes as in Wales, but she decided to make a pie of them. Aside from that, it’s pretty much the same as the Welsh Supper Herrings. This did not bode well.
Mrs Woolley's book - still avaialable!

First of all you need to make or buy some shortcrust pastry, large enough to line and lid a baking dish large enough to hold the ingredients of the pie. A small lasagne-style dish would be appropriate. Line the dish and keep it in the fridge. Reserve the pastry for the lid in the fridge too.
Next, prepare 6 herrings. You need to scale, gut and bone them. Or ask your fishmonger to do it. Boning herring is actually a pretty straight-forward job, as you need no filleting skills whatsoever. I can’t put it better than Jane herself:
Cut off heads, fins and tails and bone them: to do this, put the herring on a board, backbone up, spreading out the slit sides of the belly. Press gently along the backbone from neck to tail, until you feel the bone giving. Turn the herring over, and you will find you can pick out the backbone complete with most of the whiskery bones still attached (separate bones can be pulled out).
It’s worth mentioning that you need really fresh firm herrings for this. If they’re just a few days’ old, they will have started to go mushy, and the procedure described by Jane above will be most unsuccessful.
Next, season them on both sides with salt, black pepper and ground mace (about ½ a teaspoon should do it). Spread some softened butter over the base of the pie and arrange the herrings on top. Peel, core and slice 3 good-sized cooking apples and thinly slice 2 medium onions. Put the apple on next to forma layer, then the onions. Place dots of butter over the top, season again with salt and pepper, then sprinkle over 4 tablespoons of water
 Roll out the remainder of the pastry, sealing the pie with some beaten egg or cream. Make a hole in the middle of the pie so that steam can escape and brush the lid with your egg or cream.
Bake at 180-190⁰C for 40 minutes or so. “Check after 30 minutes”, says Grigson, “by pushing a larding needle or skewer through the central hole of the lid, so that it pierces the herring; you should be able to feel whether the herrings are cooked by the way the needle or skewer goes in.”
And there you have it. I assume the pie was supposed to be a self-contained meal, maybe a suitable salad could be served alongside it.
#390 Isle of Man Herring Pie. Well I have to say I’ve not had a really terrible recipe from English Food in quite a while, so I was well overdue. The herring just did not go with the apples at all; it would at least have ben palatable as an apple and onion pie. I cannot see how this recipe made it into any cookbook! Really bad. Went straight in the bin. 1/10.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

#389 Salmon Stewed in Seaweed with Dulse Hollandaise

Seaweed is not so popular in this country and this recipe requires two different kinds. The first is dulse and I have used it before to make #307 Mashed Potato with Dulse. There’s some information about dulse on that post, should you want it. 
However, the other seaweed – the one the fish is stewed in – is not so familiar. It is called fingerware, and according to the recipe, comes in ½ ounce (or 15g these days) packets. I could find no mention of fingerware in any of my books, or in shops. I did manage to find its Latin name in A Dictionary of Food and Nutrition by David A Bender, but that was all I found though. Here’s the full entry:
                fingerware Edible seaweed, Laminaria digitalia
This name sounded familiar (being an ecologist one picks up the Latin names to some organisms), and it turned out to be good-old kelp. Now I had something to try and order. Unsurprisingly, I was able to find it on Amazon, but only in massive triple packs. Hey-ho. It just had better be bloody nice!
Fingerware, Laminara digitalia, in situ
Now I had my two seaweeds I could cook the recipe, which, by the way, is one that Jane modified from a book from Karin Perry's Fish Book. Originally, halibut was used, but you could also use any round sea fish like sea bass, cod, or grey mullet.
 Fingerware how I received it.

Begin by preparing your whole salmon. According to Jane, it should weigh somewhere around 2 ½ pounds, mine was a little larger because the only salmon available to me was farmed, and they grow much larger than wild salmon. Anyway, give the salmon a rinse and pat it dry. Leave out in the kitchen for it to warm to room temperature for 30 minutes or so.
Next prepare the fingerware, you’ll need ½ ounce of it. I could only get it in huge sheets, so I cut out a piece and cut that into broad strips. Pour boiling water over it and leave it to rehydrate for 30 minutes.
While you wait, get the fish kettle ready: place two upturned ramekins inside end-to-end to act as a stage for the rack; the idea here is that the fish cooks in the steam rather than in the water. Lay the fingerware over the rack and then brush the upper side of the fish with some melted butter. Season it with salt and pepper, and then lay the fish butter-side-down on the rack. Brush the other side of the fish with more melted butter and season. Don’t forget to season inside the fish too. Lay the rest of the fingerware over the fish.
Next, get some hot water on ready to pour into the kettle. Cut a piece of kitchen foil large enough to cover the fish in its kettle; the lid cannot be used because of the ramekins. Pour in the hot water, then place the rack and fish inside the kettle. Cover with foil, put over two burners and steam for 15 minutes.

When the time is up, have a little look and see if the fish is done. You could use a knife to have a little inspection, or pull a fin; if ready the fin should pull out in a satisfying way. If not ready, leave another 5 minutes.
When done, take the kettle from the heat, but keep the foil over it for another 15 minutes. While you wait, prepare the hollandaise sauce.
Take 2 tablespoons of crumbled, dry dulse in a bowl and pour over it boiling water. Leave for 2 minutes, strain it in a sieve and refresh with cold water. Pat dry with kitchen paper.
Start by cutting 7 ounces of softened unsalted butter into small cubes. Place 3 egg yolks in a bowl along with a tablespoon of water. Whisk well and then place the bowl over a pan of simmering water. Then, whisking all the time, add one or two cubes of butter and when incorporated add a couple more cubes until all the cubes are used up. Season with salt, pepper and lemon juice and stir in the dulse.
Transfer the salmon to a serving dish and pour the sauce into a jug.
When portioning out the fish, Jane suggests, giving each person a small piece of the fingerware. She also suggests to accompany it with boiled new potatoes and samphire or blanched cucumber or mange tout.
 #389 Salmon Stewed in Seaweed with Dulse Hollandaise. Hmmm. A tricky one to judge, this one. I thought the salmon was cooked very nicely and one cannot ever complain about hollandaise sauce. The problem was the seaweed didn’t seem to add anything at all to the dish. I think if I had used partially-dried dulse like you can get in Ireland, fried it to make it crispy and used that in the sauce, it would have made a world of difference. For that, it loses points, so let’s say 6/10.