Thursday, February 13, 2014

#391 Soft Roe Paste

The last of three recipes that use mackerel or herring roes.

There are two types of roe: hard and soft. The former comes from female fish and contains the egg, and the latter, sometimes called melts, are from the male fish and contain the sperm. This recipe, just like the other two, use soft roes. Eating the sperm sac of a fish might appear to be more of an ordeal than a pleasure, but they are tasty and can be picked up very cheaply at the fishmongers. Alternatively, when buying mackerel or herring, you can ask the fishmonger to keep behind any roes that might be present as he scales and guts them. At home, simply sequester them in a freezer bag until you have for a recipe. They are an acquired taste because they are very slightly bitter and so they lend themselves to creamy and buttery ingredients (for example see #159 Creamed Roe Loaves).
Jane makes a point for this recipe to try and buy nice neat matching pairs of roes, rather than just the cast offs that ‘have been flung on to a separate tray’. I would have thought that this recipe would be perfect for the roes that are so carelessly thrown onto the roe tray. Not that this happens anymore – because they are not so popular these days, you almost always have to buy frozen packs.

This recipe just shows how the British just loved to pot things: meat, fish, cheese. It can all be potted and preserved for a later date. In this case the roe paste will only last maybe 4 or 5 days in the fridge, but that’s a lot longer than raw roes would last.

To make your roe paste, first fry 7 ounces of soft herring or mackerel roes in an ounce of butter, then, Jane says, to pass them through a sieve.
 This was a tricky task, which was made much easier by the utilisation of my mouli-legumes. Beat the warm roes into 6 ounces of softened butter. Jane recommends using slightly salted butter, but I have to say, I prefer normal, salted, butter; after all you’ll only add more salt when it comes to seasoning later!
Next, mix in a tablespoon of double cream, then season with salt, Cayenne pepper and lemon juice. Finally add a little chopped parsley.

‘Serve chilled, but not chilled to hardness, with thin toast or baked sliced of bread.’

#391 Soft Roe Paste. I liked this paste, the bitter flavour of the roes was cut with the lemon, cream and parsley whilst still maintaining the roe flavour. However, it didn’t exactly make me do backflips. Good, but not great, and nowhere near the dizzy height of previous fishy pastes like #378 Elizabeth David’s Potted Crab. 5.5/10.

Friday, February 7, 2014

#390 Isle of Man Herring Pie

I’ve been putting this one off for ages because it starts with the sentence: “A very similar recipe to the [#133] Welsh Supper Herrings”. These were not good; pappy fishy cat food mush and raw potatoes. However, that was 5 years ago (5 YEARS!) and I like to think of myself as a better cook now than in those naïve days.
This recipe comes from a Mrs Suzanne Woolley who ran a restaurant called Mheillea (‘Harvest Man’) on the Isle of Man. Normally herrings would have been cooked with potatoes as in Wales, but she decided to make a pie of them. Aside from that, it’s pretty much the same as the Welsh Supper Herrings. This did not bode well.
Mrs Woolley's book - still avaialable!

First of all you need to make or buy some shortcrust pastry, large enough to line and lid a baking dish large enough to hold the ingredients of the pie. A small lasagne-style dish would be appropriate. Line the dish and keep it in the fridge. Reserve the pastry for the lid in the fridge too.
Next, prepare 6 herrings. You need to scale, gut and bone them. Or ask your fishmonger to do it. Boning herring is actually a pretty straight-forward job, as you need no filleting skills whatsoever. I can’t put it better than Jane herself:
Cut off heads, fins and tails and bone them: to do this, put the herring on a board, backbone up, spreading out the slit sides of the belly. Press gently along the backbone from neck to tail, until you feel the bone giving. Turn the herring over, and you will find you can pick out the backbone complete with most of the whiskery bones still attached (separate bones can be pulled out).
It’s worth mentioning that you need really fresh firm herrings for this. If they’re just a few days’ old, they will have started to go mushy, and the procedure described by Jane above will be most unsuccessful.
Next, season them on both sides with salt, black pepper and ground mace (about ½ a teaspoon should do it). Spread some softened butter over the base of the pie and arrange the herrings on top. Peel, core and slice 3 good-sized cooking apples and thinly slice 2 medium onions. Put the apple on next to forma layer, then the onions. Place dots of butter over the top, season again with salt and pepper, then sprinkle over 4 tablespoons of water
 Roll out the remainder of the pastry, sealing the pie with some beaten egg or cream. Make a hole in the middle of the pie so that steam can escape and brush the lid with your egg or cream.
Bake at 180-190⁰C for 40 minutes or so. “Check after 30 minutes”, says Grigson, “by pushing a larding needle or skewer through the central hole of the lid, so that it pierces the herring; you should be able to feel whether the herrings are cooked by the way the needle or skewer goes in.”
And there you have it. I assume the pie was supposed to be a self-contained meal, maybe a suitable salad could be served alongside it.
#390 Isle of Man Herring Pie. Well I have to say I’ve not had a really terrible recipe from English Food in quite a while, so I was well overdue. The herring just did not go with the apples at all; it would at least have ben palatable as an apple and onion pie. I cannot see how this recipe made it into any cookbook! Really bad. Went straight in the bin. 1/10.