Tuesday, 13 March 2007

Spring In The Step

As Spring gently eases its head rather lovingly around the corner, I start to feel excited. Well, more full of optimism I think, a sense of good things ahead, of warmer sunnier days and longer barmier evenings. I love the winter, I welcome the first frost as it makes me feel all toasty and Christmassy (is there such a word?! Well there is now...). But after the seasonal will has passed we are left with dark realism as January kicks in. And it begins to outstay it's welcome.

As March hops on towards Easter time I already feel like I am waking up to a better day, and of course there is one subject that consumes my mind when I plan the day ahead - food. What will I make for breakfast, and what can I prepare for the family when I get home? The seasons are changing and with that brings a parade of new seasonal ingredients to cook with. Hooray!

Now that MasterChef is almost finished and I can exorcise the evil spirits that haunted me on my final day of hell last Friday, I can begin to re-approach the dishes that I wrote for the show that for some reason were never used. And how I wish I had used this one. I can safely say that I would have been more relaxed and prepared, full of confidence as I confidently strutted towards the critics as opposed to stumbling rather sweatily with a plate of utter rubbish.

It is still a little early in the year to use fresh locally caught mackerel, so please feel free to use smoked preserved mackerel instead. But when the silver beasts start to thrash their way aggressively towards our shores again, I beg you to eat them in their droves. For me, they are the best tasting fish out there. Okay, I do have a love for halibut but price compared to taste, like comparing a Rolls Royce to a Ford Focus, it simply does not compare (as you can see, I know zilch about cars).

If you can cook a fillet of mackerel perfectly, by which I mean searing very fast on a well seasoned skin before flipping over for the briefest of 10 seconds, it will go very well just on it's own with some good bread and butter and perhaps a dollop of mustard mayonnaise. This dish serves that tasty specimen on a mound (I will never learn, PORTION CONTROL DAVID!) of creamy watercress speckled crushed potatoes with that perfect fishy companion fennel, braised with orange and mustard and tossed with some walnuts. Unusual I know but it works. I think even Mr Campion and Ms Spicer may have enjoyed this one.....

Mackerel on Watercress Crushed Potatoes with Orange and Mustard Braised Fennel
Serves 2

400g King Edward Potatoes (or your fave floury ones), peeled and cut into 2" chunks
50g Watercress chopped roughly
2 Mackerels, gutted, cleaned and filleted and skin slashed several times
1 Fennel bulb
500ml Orange juice
1 tbs English mustard (or if you can't stand the fire, go for Dijon)
50g Walnuts, broken
50g butter
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

1 - In a heavy based pan, melt 25g butter and 1 tbs olive oil. Quarter the fennel bulb and season. Colour on all sides, then pour in the orange juice and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer with a lid on for 30-40 minutes, until you can push a sharp knife through without too much resistance.
2 - Reduce the orange juice until thickened, add the mustard, 25g butter and season.
3 - Bring a pan of water to the boil and add the potatoes. Boil until tender and drain. Return to the pan and crush with a fork. Stir in watercress, seasoning and a good knob of butter.
4 - In a non-stick pan, bring a tbs olive oil to a shimmering heat. Add the seasoned mackerel fillets skin side down and hold with your fingers for a few seconds to ensure the skin catches. Cook for 2-3 minutes until you achieve a good colour. Flip and cook for 10 seconds. To check your fish is cooked, put a knife into the thickest past of the fillet, the flesh should come apart easily.
5 -Serve the mackerel on a dollop of crushed potatoes with the fennel on the side and a good pouring of delicious orange, mustard and walnut sauce.


Patricia said...

I know what you mean David with the 'spring in the step'. How we can all start looking forward to great vegetables and fennel is certainly one of my favourites. I can remember when I was 16 (oooh, long time ago) I was home alone I prepared some for myself as my mum grew them in her garden, which was the start of my culinary adventures.

Jessica said...

Hi David,
Really enjoying your blog and bad luck with Masterchef - gosh it looks like hard work!

Well done for getting so far.