I do like fish. I must confess that my I much prefer the catching to the eating, coming from ‘hunter-gatherer’ that might sound strange, but then this is the 21st century- things have changed somewhat in 8000 years, but the thrill of the hunt still has its rewards and as far as I’m concerned that usually means damn fresh and proper free range, like…wild…man. What you shoot or what you pull out of the water is undoubtedly the finest of flesh: wild meats, even wild plants to a certain extent these days are at an all time high, when it comes to wild meats especially and if you’re buying, expect to pay a premium.
This is where we can have the best of both, by hunting or fishing, we don’t only get to indulge in primeval roleplay and flex the natural instincts, we also get to enjoy the fruits of our labour. Anyone can fish, you just need a rod & tackle, a rod licence and the occasional involuntary donation to the water, unless you stick to the coast- then it’s free!
Shooting might not seem as easy, but can be if you are willing to put a bit more into it: A .22 air rifle doesn’t require a licence of any kind, but you will need somewhere to use. Someone once told me land is the best thing you can own because they don’t make it anymore. We can’t all pay the price for a little slice of countryside- its spenny to say the least. That said, everyone knows someone who knows someone or knows someone else that knows someone rural, I mean proper rural, with land, farms, woods, whatever…land means things to hunt and more often than not these landowners all have pests that they would be happy to be rid of. That means Rabbits and pigeons- both excellent wild meats. Its always worth asking around, someone might even barter you a wood to build a tree house in and live there for 6 months…
It also allows you to lose yourself in a bit of nature for a while- always a good thing, you can switch off for a while and enjoy an environment that doesn’t always conform which in itself means there will inevitably be some sort of excitement.
So that’s why I like hunting and fishing, but especially being a brother of the angle- better known as a fisherman. Doesn’t take much to qualify as a fisherman either: get the above and you’re a fisherman (I’m not talking about the crazy fellas that take on the north sea- that’s a whole different kettle of fish).
Well, onto the main course, in fact this is more of an apero or starter. In terms of wild ingredients in this one we’re just talking fish, fortunately the one used in this recipe is the most common and easy to seek out around our coastline, harbours and upper tidal sections of most rivers. The Grey Mullet: difficult to catch certainly, pound for pound they fight extremely hard and are therefore the ultimate prize. They are often referred to as the English Bonefish, having caught a Bonefish off the flats of little Cayman, I can whole heartedly agree- Mullet wear jetpacks and on light tackle will give you one hell of a scrap.
I prefer to fly fish with a bit of bread crust. Check out the post I did on how to fish for them here, it was done in France, but French Mullet don’t have the same arrogance or culinary curiosity as there two-legged counterparts living above the surface. They speak the same language as the English Mullet (anyone reading this in Basque country- please understand I am referring to a fish, not a hairstyle- just want to avoid any confusion on that point).
Mullet are bloody fussy eaters, their natural diet is based around sucking up mud and filtering out the microscopic edibles, other than that they like a bit of sea weed to sift through, not easy to cater for. Where converted they will take bread, but most of the time making contact is tough. There is one method that I have been introduced to recently by a fishing buddy of mine that is killer. Apparently its no secret and this article from Angler’s Mail will tell you everything you need to know.
In simple terms in consists of using a spinning rod with a few small weights to get style and distance, a small mepps spinner (treble removed) with 6 inch length of line tied to the end and a small single barbed hook attached. The single hook is then baited with a few ragworm. THe way in which works is that the mullet will be attracted by the spinner and follow it, then they see the trailing ragworms (presumably something they eat from the mud from time to time) and snatch at it- fish on! Except they usually end up snatching at the trailing ragworm (expect to rebait every few casts!). A good tip, again from my fishing buddy, is to attach ANOTHER single hook with a short piece of line to the eye of first single hook, so that it sits at the same point as the end of the trailing ragworm. I found that success rate increased dramatically- everytime the mullet snatched at the ragworm it found itself hooked- cunning.
Fish in the kitchen has always caused a bit of an issue for me, I’m not the biggest fan of baked, poached or pan-fried, but I love it raw, smoked or cured. Ceviche is king (see the post on ceviche here). I think it has something to do with texture, perhaps the added excitement of an age-old process between the obtaining of the main ingredient and the eating. In the case of raw- its all down to the fish gods and your skill to get it as fresh as possible (although luck does play a part, any fisherman who is lying out of his arse).
This is one of the most incredible recipes I have ever come across, and thus, certainly can’t take credit for, but then again neither can Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall- despite it being in his River cottage fish book (Highly recommended).
Clearly it is so good, that he obtained it from the genius that created it: Adam Robinson, former chef/propreiter of the Brackenbury in Chiswick. Mr Robinson used to make it with cod although most white fish will agree:
Bass, Sea Bream, Grey mullet, Pollack, whiting, ling, brown trout, perch and pike are all useful fish, I daresay rainbow, trout and salmon would be perfectly happy to get involved with this quick cure treatment too
Mullet fillets in the herb garden ready for curing.
The recipe calls for shallots, slow roasted tomatoes and a dose of thyme. The best thing about this recipe is in the cure: with this you can go crazy: perhaps a nice far east version with spring onions, a drizzle of soy sauce quick pickled cucumber and generous helping of chillies, chopped ginger & garlic…
And here it is:
Slow roasted tomatoes.
Very easy to do and will keep for sometime in a jar of olive oil. Cut the tomatoes in half, de-seed with a spoon and then cut them into quarters. Arrange on a roasting tray drizzle, with a little olive oil, salt and pepper and a few sprigs of thyme. Roast gently in the oven at 140C for 2 hours.
I say quick, but this actually takes about 6-8 hours! Depending on the size of your fillets, the recipe is based on a fillet of 400-500g or two of around 250g each.
- 150g salt
- 50g white granulated sugar
- 2 bay leaves finely shredded (or lemongrass if going oriental)
- 5g of freshly ground black pepper
Mix together the ingredients for the cure, and sprinkle a handful on the bottom of a rectangular tuppaware. Place the fillets in skin side down and then cover with the remainder of the cure. Cover and place in the fridge for 6-8 hours, anymore and they will be over salted, the smaller the fillet- stick to 6 hours.
Once curing time is up- remove the fillets, give them a good rinse and pat them dry. Prepare the fish by thinly slicing from the tail end- as if you were slicing a side of smoked salmon.
After Cure, and below: stiff as a board (almost).
The next stage is up to you- but whatever you are mixing it with be it the traditional version or the oriental one, allow a least an hour for the fish and the other ingredients and oils to marry and mingle before serving.