It was that time of year again…duffers fortnight! For those of you who are unaware of this seasonal fishing bonanza and maybe curious, duffer’s fortnight is a short period (usually the end of May and start of June) when the mayfly hatches on southern chalk streams are at their most vigorous. The surface of many of these gin-clear rivers are alive with Trout and Grayling supping large mayflies off the surface and adding on those extra few ounces so they can make a great meal for you and I, the so named period is called duffer’s because only a duffer could fail to catch a fish.
This year my brother and I were to take on the River Lambourne, just outside of Newbury. The river itself was not much larger than a country lane and full of trout and grayling of all sizes. Thick bunches of duckweed spring up from the chalk bed of the river and the trout lie up against it occasionally popping out to take a mayfly off the surface. The sides of the river were overgrown with a whole host of plants, most notably wild watercress. The best way to get at these hungry fish was with waders, which we donned and crept up on the unsuspecting targets from downstream. It was mid afternoon when the fish began going berserk and with the constant influx of mayfly, and our imitations on the end of the line, the fish came thick and fast, each putting up a hearty fight. The grayling were out in force and by the end of the day we had caught a fair few. I myself had never had the pleasure of tasting this fish, so what I considered to be the best of the day (see above) was promptly bonked over the head and taken home.
The grayling is a member of the salmon family and this is evident from its adipose fin on its back above the tail. It is regarded as a fine eating fish and has a spectacular dorsal fin, which is a mixture of orange, red, grey and slight tinge of violet, it is most likely due to this and there large eyes that they aptly named ‘the lady of the stream’.
Anyway, on with the cooking! The grayling’s Latin name is thymallus thymallus, which I believe is a reference to the fish having a unique smell…of thyme. I am not sure if I can say it is thyme, but it is different. The preparation for the fish was a case of scaling it and filleting the fish, followed by cutting it into bite size chunks.
The ingredients are as follows:
• Grayling 1-2lbs
• Handful of fresh sorrel
• Juice of 1 lemon
• 200g of plain flour
• Salt & pepper
Firstly, soak the grayling chunks in the lemon juice for 15 minutes, this effectively ‘cooks’ the fish, the citric acid will cause the proteins in the flesh to become denatured (ceviche). Chop up the sorrel leaves finely and mix in with the flour and salt & pepper.
The next step is to heat up about 5cm of cooking oil in a small saucepan, heat it up until a small piece of bread, when dropped in, will brown within a few seconds. Once the desired heat has been achieved, take out the chunks of fish and roll them in the flour until well coated, then lower them into the oil and cook until they are golden. Then carefully remove and set on a paper towel to remove any excess oil.
I love to do a lot of the trout I catch in this way, it is quick and easy and tastes amazing, I like to serve it with asparagus and and/or a light salad. You are now ready to eat your grayling. Enjoy!