Hot-Pickled Herring

This recipe is something of a contradiction because, despite the name, it is eaten cold.

The slow poaching in a lightly flavoured vinegar neutralises the oiliness of the herring to a certain extent, and the herbs and onion make for a fine, delicate flavour.

This method is also much quicker than the traditional method of sousing herring, which involves both brining and marinading in spiced vinegar over several days. You can put this dish into the oven at 6pm, cook and then leave to cool in the oven overnight and it is ready to eat the following day. This method also has the advantage of dissolving all the tiny pin bones that abound in herring, leaving just the backbone to lift free when served.

The recommended dressing is for oil and vinegar, but a little crème fraiche or even the strained cooking liquid are also enjoyable.

Pickled Herring Recipe
Source: MS1795, Wellcome Library Collection

Hot Pickled Herring

1 herring or 2 herring fillets per person
1tsp salt
1tsp black pepper
100g butter
1 large bunch of thyme.
2 onions, sliced thinly into rings
1 litre white wine vinegar to cover

  • Cut off the herring heads and tails if necessary. Rinse and pat dry.
  • Sprinkle the herring wth salt and pepper.
  • Slice the butter thinly and lay half in the bottom of an oven-proof dish.
  • Arrange a layer of onion and thyme sprigs and lay the herrings on top.
  • Repeat the layers of butter, onion/thyme and herring until the dish is full (or ingredients are finished).
  • Pour over sufficient white wine vinegar to cover the herring, then cover the dish with a double layer of cooking foil, tied tightly with string.
  • Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas 6.
  • Bake for 4 hours, then remove and set aside to cool completely.
  • Serve cold.
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Broiled Mackerel with Butter Sauce

Mackerel is an oily fish, rich in omega-3 fatty acids. They have been an important food source for thousands of years, and are especially important to the fishing communities of coastal Scotland.

Once in danger from overfishing, mackerel are now available through thoughtful and sustainable farming methods. They are beautiful to behold, with their dark blue tiger stripes over a pale blue, sometimes green, background and dazzlingly white undersides.

This recipe, with it’s simple stuffing and garnish allows both the beauty and flavour of the mackerel to shine, in addition to being speedy to both prepare and cook.

Original Recipe
Source: MS3009, Wellcome Library Collection

Broiled Mackerel with Butter Sauce

4 fresh mackerel, gutted
2 bulbs of fennel, cut into thin slices

For the stuffing
2 slices of fresh wholemeal bread made into breadcrumbs
2tbs each of chopped fresh dill, parsley, fennel, thyme, rosemary
¼ tsp pepper
¼ tsp salt

Butter Sauce – see recipe here
To Add
2-3tbs capers
a little caper pickle liquid

  • Make the butter sauce:
  • Add the capers and a little of the pickle liquid to taste.
  • Wash and dry the fish.
  • Scotch the outside of the mackerel in diamond shapes with a sharp knife.
  • Mix the stuffing ingredients together and fill the insides of the mackerel. Don’t worry if there’s stuffing left over.
  • Sprinkle the fish with salt and lay thin slices of butter over them.
  • Lay slices of fennel on an oiled rack over a grillpan.
  • Lay on some flakes of butter.
  • Add the fish and cover with more butter.
  • Lay over more fennel. Dot a little butter over the fennel, or brush lightly with oil, to prevent it burning.
  • Grill under high heat for 5-6 minutes then turn the fish and grill the other side.
  • To turn the fish, lay a wire rack over the top and hold the grill and the wire rack like the bread of a sandwich. Turn the whole over, so the underside of the fish is now uppermost, with the fennel on top.
  • Grill for a further 5-6 minutes.
  • While the fish is cooking, melt a little butter in a an and quickly stir fry any excess herb stuffing, until the breadcrumbs crisp up.
  • Serve the fish on a bed of the fennel, sprinkled with the toasted crumbs, and butter sauce with capers on the side.

Batalia Fish Pie

Battalia Pie is a classic, double-crust pie from times past, the filling for which filling could be made from any of a number of ingredients. It’s origins are thought to come from the French béatilles, meaning titbits, and originally comprised of all the little odds and ends that are too small to use by themselves: cockscombs, lamb stones, sweetbreads, ox palates, etc.

By the 18th century, the spelling had settled onto Battalia, but in the 16th and 17th centuries it was a much more ad hoc affair (beatille, beatilla, beatilia), although the French origin can still be seen. To the ear, however, it sounded closer to ‘battle’ and William Rabisha embraced this interpretation with gusto, styling his fish pie in a pastry castle, complete with crenellated battlements, which I think is a fabulous concept as well as being visually stunning for a special occasion or centrepiece.

This design works especially well with the mixture of ingredients called
for in his filling, as he suggests that each tower hold a different kind of fish and sauce. Then again, he also suggests that the decapitated heads of the various fish and seafood creatures be stuffed and propped on the battlements like some macabre seafood re-enactment of the siege in Beau Geste, thus illustrating the importance of being selective when choosing which aspects of historical recipes to revive.

bataliafishpie
From The Whole Body of Cookery Dissected (1661) William Rabisha

Another presentation idea is to utilize the castle and battlement elements for a cold, seafood buffet, as in the picture above. Each tower is filled with a different seafood, and the main body of the ‘castle’ can incorporate garnishes, salads and seafood items better suited to being laid out, such as smoked salmon and/or trout and oysters on the half shell.

Instructions are given below for how to construct and bake your crenellated pastry castle. Do not be constrained by the picture – only by the dimensions of the tin that will fit inside your oven: a large roasting tin will give you ample space in which to lay out your centrpiece.

Neither should you think only in terms of rectangular shapes for your ‘castle’. Use whatever baking tins you have to hand and create your own fortified masterpiece. A variety of heights will add interest as well as flexibility to your display.

Happy castling!

Batalia Fish Pie

William Rabisha, 1661

Game Pie Pastry made with wholemeal flour instead of white
2 large eggs for glazing.

To make the castle pie shell

  • Select a pie tin suitable for serving; round of rectangular, either is fine. It should be at least 10cm deep in order to form the walls and crenellations.
  • Select tins to shape your towers. These can be ordinary tins from soup or vegetables; remove the labels by soaking, and cut off both ends, leaving a tube. Cover all of the tins with foil or baking parchment, leaving one end open on each of the smaller ‘tower’ tins. The pastry will be baked on the outsides of the tins, to ensure a neat appearance.
  • Turn all of your tins upside down. Grease well.
  • Preheat your oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas 6.
  • Roll out the pastry to about 1cm and use to cover all of the tins with a smooth layer. Trim any excess pastry.
  • Re-roll the scraps of pastry and cut into 3cm strips. Brush the top edges – which are currently the bases of the tins – with beaten egg and attach the strips of pastry. Press firmly.
  • Using a sharp knife, cut out the crenellations on the towers and the castle. Make them 1.5cm deep and 1.5cm wide.
  • Brush the pastry with the beaten egg.
  • Using the tip of a sharp knife, lightly score the pastry into a brickwork pattern.
  • Set your tins, still upside-down, onto a baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes until browned and firm.
  • Remove from the oven and CAREFULLY turn the tins the right way up.
  • Ease the foil/parchment away from the tins and lift out. Remove the foil/parchment, leaving the pastry shell. Brush the insides of the pastry with beaten egg and return to the oven for 5-10 minutes until fully cooked.
  • Cool on a wire rack.