Mackerel with pickled cucumber and horseradish

I never thought I’d say this but I need a break from comfort food. After the rainy long weekend when I hibernated in my flat I couldn’t take it any longer. I spent the weekend reading, perusing cookbooks and eating way too much.

There are so many great recipes in the June ‘British issue’ of Gourmet Traveller. Sometimes though, you have to be sensible. You can’t cook a family size pork pie for one and be eating it all week (as much as I kinda wanted to).

There were the Eccles cakes, my favourite and a much loved St John treat, scotch eggs and apple pies. The article on Brett Graham though really caught my interest. An Australian who has made his home and his name in London at The Ledbury and The Harwood Arms. I was surprised they included the recipes for Harwood favourites, those scotch eggs and that soda bread!

I’ve tasted (in large quantities) the bread and tried to attain the recipe, now I have it! Although I haven’t had the scotch egg. I copped a bit of flack for that and I hope to rectify that, now the famous recipe has been revealed.

In the mean time this mackerel is just what I need to bring me out of a winter stodge slump. It has been slightly adapted from the Gourmet Traveller.

Mackerel with pickled cucumber and horseradish

Ingredients

1 fresh as they come, mackerel

1 small thumb size piece of fresh horseradish

1/2 cup loosly packed mixed parsley leaves and dill fronds.

Pickled Cucumber

1 lebanese cucumbers, sliced finely (ideally with a mandolin)

100mls apple juice

100mls water

20mls white wine vinager

1/4 nori sheet folded into a small rectangle and finely sliced

1/2 cup lightly packed parsley leaves

1 pinch of sea salt

Method

Combine all the pickling ingredients, except the cucumbers, in a food processor and blend well. Pour liquid over a sieve and into a plastic bowl. Discard the bright parsley and nori left (shame). Add the cucumbers to the pickling liquid and leave to steep in the liquid for a few hours (2-3).

Fillet your mackerel (or have the fishmonger do it, but it’s not as fun). Lightly season with salt and olive oil, place skin side down in a hot pan. Hold the mackerel down lightly for a 30 seconds to make sure all the skin is in contact with the pan. Leave the fillets in the pan (don’t be tempted to turn them) for about 3 minutes. Then flip over and cook on the other side for a minute.

Drain cucumbers from the pickling juice. Arrange on plate, place mackerel on, crispy skin side up, add herb leaves and finely grate horseradish over. Be warmly generous with the horseradish.

Serves 2

The Harwood Arms

Finally, after all the hype had died down, I was reminded that I had been trying to get a table at The Harwood Arms. Ms L and I had tried so many times, but finally managed to get a table for a Sunday night.It was very quite when Ms L and I arrived at 730pm, it didn’t last long. Refurbished in September 2008, the pubs interior is of simple decor, mismatched chairs and coarse linen napkins tied with raffia. I liked it.  Although we were the only the second seated table, the other table having already ordered, we seemed to wait quite a while to be served. I know you need to give people a chance to peruse a menu but I’m impatient once I have decided. I was also ravenous after being out late the night before. Their absolutely delicious soda bread kept me at bay.A lovely bottle of red was recommended to us and we were settling into Sunday night. A soft French Pinot Noir, was a good overall choice for the dishes we had chosen.I chose the Kennet River Crayfish and saffron soup with crayfish cocktail toast from the specials board. Sounded good to me, but it was a disappointment.

On first sight, it looked good and I liked the presentation on the rustic timber board. The soup was lovely but the crayfish cocktail toast tasted like bad coleslaw. It spoilt the whole dish for me.

Ms L chose the Crisp brawn with tarragon mustard and broad beans stewed with smoked bacon and gem lettuce. The colours of the crispy fried brawn against the bright green of the tarragon mustard and broad bean stew, brought comfort to my eyes. Judging from the noises coming from the other side of the table it was good… nom, nom, nom. Crisp brawn, fantastic.

The main, whole butterflied and stuffed mackerel with a sour dough crust, Isle of Wight tomatoes, wild rocket and horseradish, was also a bit disappointing. The fish was well cooked but the sough dough crust didn’t bring anything to the dish and the stuffing….what stuffing???A few herbs maybe, for £14.50.

Ms L chose off the specials board, the grilled steak of Bershire Roe deer and Douglas Fir sausage. A dish of tender meat she enjoyed but it was served on a timber board with a dinner plate for you to transfer the dish onto, so that you could manage to eat it without it all falling off the board. A smallish portion for £16.75, I thought.

We both chose the peaches poached in lemon verbena syrup with raspberry ripple ice cream for a light dessert. The peaches were beautifully cooked, and softly scented by the lemon verbena. Raspberry ripple ice cream, what’s not to like. It was a lovely end to the meal.

If I didn’t know this place had rave reviews and had recently been the first pub in London to be awarded a Michelin star, I would have thought it was pretty good pub grub. Unfortuntately I did come knowing all this, so I expected something worthy of  all the praise. It’s great that they source alot of produce from small British suppliers, but that’s not unique anymore. I actually think it’s expected now, more and more, especially if they have been granted a star.

It was good, I’m glad I went, and even though I live relatively close, I think I will stick to my local pub which serves good reasonably priced food. I can walk in and always find a table. It’s still a pub for the locals.