Saturday, 2 May 2009

The Widow's Cookbook #1

For a pair of unashamed foodies, our knowledge of the world of fish was remarkably scant for a long time. We had a few standards that were trotted out every time – salmon fillet, various versions of white fish in a sauce, kippers for breakfast or perhaps kedgeree for Sunday brunch. But never anything very exciting or out of the ordinary.

Then we moved to Wales and found to our delight that our nearest town had a proper fishmonger. And a helpful and enthusiastic one at that. Over the years, he helped to extend our fishy education. Part of the Saturday morning ritual was to visit Derek the fishmonger to see what looked good. Always enthusiastic about his products, he was keen to teach us how to make the best of them. From him we learned how to fillet fish properly (both flat and round), dress crabs, shuck oysters, pot tiny brown shrimps. We learned what to do with samphire, the relative merits of brown and rainbow trout, not to ignore a fish just because we had never heard of it before and when which fish was in season and therefore at its best.

Derek’s shop was also the scene of one of my more dramatic meltdowns in the early days after R died. It was during the period of no appetite and I was following the sound advice of simply eating what I fancied, regardless of cost or whether it provided a balanced diet. That day, my fancy turned to crayfish tails.

I knew the moment I walked into the shop that he was going to ask where R was. But not even this foreknowledge could prevent the floodgates opening. The poor man sat me down and patted my hand for a while, but we were both very embarrassed afterwards.
Now we stick to safe topics like the weather or rugby, but he never fails to add a couple of extra prawns to my order or round my bill down to the nearest pound.

One discovery (or perhaps rediscovery) from Derek's shop was mackerel. Before, it mostly came in a tin and was covered with a dubious sauce. Then we found that it had a season, and that a mackerel freshly landed that morning, with plump body, shiny scales and bright eyes was both cheap and difficult to beat for flavour.

R’s favourite way to cook it was to dredge the fillets in seasoned oatmeal and then quickly pan-fry in butter until the topping was crispy. Served with new potatoes, broccoli from the garden and a generous spoonful of rhubarb or gooseberry chutney, it set me up perfectly for cleaning up the scene of devastation that I invariably found in the kitchen after he had cooked it!

For me it has to be devilled mackerel. Melt some butter and add to it some brown sugar, mustard powder, ground coriander, paprika, chilli powder, balsamic vinegar, S&P. Then slash the skin of the fish on both sides and slather on the buttery goodness. If the BBQ is fired up, cook the fish on there. If the weather is not so clement, line your grill pan with foil and grill for 3-4 minutes on each side.

That's all it takes for fishy perfection. And practically no washing up either.


  1. Terrific. I think my entry about widow's cooking is going to be called "What's burning this time?"



  2. :)
    Don't believe you for a minute!