I have had some bizarre requests in my time, but creating a wild taster menu and teaching a foraging lesson from a hot air Balloon for Mazda, tops the list (or living as a caveman for a week might be closer…) Whatever will be next? Building a Tree House on the Eiffel Tower? Foraging in the Amazon Basin? Yak shooting, skinning and gutting in the Himilayas? I’d probably do them all- well, why not? Sounds like fun!
When it came to planning and plotting the menu, I delved into the HGC archives to ensure they would be receiving the finest fodder the countryside had to offer. Obviously, whatever was in season would make the cut and then it was down to digging out what was going to be exciting, tasty and inspiring. Elderflower was first to be binned- yes in season and yes as about inspiring as a BNP conference. For the last few years meadowsweet has long been the new elderflower for me and only that would make the cut- so I was pleased to see it out in full force.
Pigeons and Rabbits were de rigueur for any of my feasts, Mushrooms were still to appear (my source of chicken of the woods was looking a bit ropey on last inspection) and as far as something fishy was concerned, I wanted something different, but more native Britain than a Sunday roast. Trout- although pleasant I feel they are great to catch, but nothing special- you would also be hard pressed to find a truly ‘wild’ fish anyway these days and If you did the last thing you would do is take it home for tea.
I had my sights set on Carp or Chub. Having already been crucified by the nation’s anglers after writing an online piece about tucking into Native freshwater fish for the Guardian Word of Mouth (see it here), I was more determined than ever to continue my crusade to get more people to try our lesser-known fish. I mean, what kind of bell ringer writes a comment saying: “If every one of the 3 million anglers in the UK to a fish home for supper, there would be none left”. Yeah right, of course that’s going to happen you anus. Daft comments aside, there were some well-informed comments, all reeking of hatred for my suggestion (honestly, where the hell does HF-W get his silver lining from?!) and plenty of rants about light-fingered eastern European ‘gangs’ taking fish. I hadn’t expected such a racial assault from Guardian readers…
Obviously when eating native freshwater fish, it’s important to adhere to the Environment agencies guidelines- provided you have the owner of the water’s consent you may remove X-amount of fish on any given day. Lucky for me I have a good source of both fish and consent, so it was down to how I would cook the buggers. The food was all going to be pre-prepared and nothing served hot. Simple: Ceviche. Contrary to popular belief, Carp are NOT muddy fish, provided they are under 5lbs. This myth has been developed by cunning piscators that would prefer not to have their favourite sport fish eaten- carp fishing is BIG business these days. Ever wondered why our Eastern European counterparts are so fond of carp flesh?
Chub however, is a fish that has never enjoyed a culinary reputation of any kind. Quite simply it’s known as being inedible…until now. Even back in the day, Izaak Walton said the chub was like eating cotton wool stuffed with pins. Catching them is not too difficult, being omnivores, they will take bait, fly and even spinners. They can be found in almost every river and even some still waters and are greedy fish- smaller fish will spook less easily, but the bigger fish are big for a reason (not that anyone bothers to take them home with them).
5 Years back- 1st attempt!
In the past I have tried to cook them- on gutting they have the same firm white flesh you would expect from a bass, on cooking they turn into fishy mash potato...
It was my Friend Tom (aka the Hungry Cyclist) that suggested Ceviche as the only form of ‘cooking’ that might render the chub edible. And he was spot on. So off I went with the fly rod to my local spot to try and entice one of the beasts home to the kitchen. The mayfly nymph rarely disappoints and before long I had a good size fish in the bag.
Processing a chub is a bit fiddly: the bones along its flank are the main issue. First, de-scale the fish with the back of a knife or fish scaler, gut the fish and then fillet. Once you have the fillets, you will need to remove the pin bones that were the ribcage. As long as you have a pair of pliers, it is a case of feeling your way along and then pulling them out. Once washed, chop the fillets into thumbnail size chunks and you are ready for Chevy-chasing.
- 4 medium sized chub fillets (or 2 big ones)
- Juice of 4 limes (or lemons)
- 1 shallot (finely diced)
- ½ small red chilli (finely diced)
- 1 stick of celery (finely diced)
- 1 carrot (finely diced)
- ½ cucumber
- ½ red pepper (finely diced)
- ½ green pepper (finely diced)
- Salt & Pepper
Once you have cut up the chub into small chunks , place them in a bowl with the lime juice and a sprinkle of salt, mix well and place in the fridge to ‘cook’ for 15 minutes- you will notice the flesh turn from translucent to opaque. The citric acid from the lime juice breaks down the proteins in the fish and renders it ‘cooked’.
Finely dice all the other ingredients, season well and mix them in a bowl. The cucumber is going to be used as the base for serving the ceviche canapé style. Cut it into ½ inch wide pieces and, using a teaspoon, scrape out some of the middle to make a bowl in which to place the ceviche.
Once your chub is done, drain off the lime juice and mix the chub in with the rest of the ingredients, season to taste and then scoop into the cucumber resepticles. Et Voila!
So there I was, 2000ft in the air feeding chub ceviche to Radio 1 DJ and all round good lad Reggie Yates. He certainly tucked in! I’d never been in a balloon before, and being a tree dweller I didn’t think I would suffer from vertigo. At about 1500ft, I had a brief moment when I looked down and realized there was nothing but an oversize hamper between me and the Buckinghamshire countryside far below. Shit my pants and freak out? Or are we ok? Fortunately there was no rising panic and I was actually quite blown away by the gentle silence and the stunning views. Let the feasting commence!
Potted Rabbit and Rabbit and Roe liver Terrine wrapped in stinging nettles. Served with three cornered leek doughballs.
Oak smoked, pan fried pigeon breast with elderberry and blackberry coulis served with a mixed wild leaf salad and a pine needle vinaigrette (horseradish leaf, yarrow, dandelion, bittercress, sorrel, Jack by the hedge and ox eye daisy).
Meadowsweet and mint cheesecake.
To wash it all down: meadowsweet cordial and nettle beer.
Here is a short Video of the Adventure courtesy of Mazda:
I am currently out in France enjoying life with the Mrs and putting my outdoor skills to use at the Element Skatecamps in the hills south of Bilbao. I am back in August for a busy month of courses at Hunter:Gather:Cook HQ and then to Wilderness Gathering to show Bushcraft keenos how to cook Wild food- cant wait!
If you fancy booking up a HGC course in August- Get in touch there are still dates available. Drop me an email with your dates and requirements and we will arrange a tailor made Hunter-Gatherer Experience just for you…Hasta Pronto!