I’ve never been a particularly keen fish-eater. Fish depends, I think, more than any other food, on a sense of place for its enjoyment, and while some of my favourite ever meals have been simply- or barely-cooked white fish or shellfish, eaten within pissing distance of the sea, I have never felt much of an urge to recreate them at home. Grilled cuttlefish or prawns, sea urchin scooped from the shell, lose their piquancy without the seasoning provided by the crash of waves and the tang of the salt air.


The flavours of oily fish, on the other hand, seem to travel a little better. (Although their flesh does not – the meat is really only good for one day; mackerel fishermen, in times when such things mattered, used to have special license to trade on Sundays so they did not waste their catch). They are more robust, and will stand up to bigger flavours, – smoke and vinegar and punchy fruit – than the vague wisps of fennel and lemon which so often accompany more delicate creatures; this also allows for a little more leeway in the quality of the fish itself. You will never recreate that beautiful bream you ate on the beach, with a squeeze of lemon and a glass of something cold – not with a supermarket specimen, anyway. With oily fish, though, the spices and sauces carry the burden that the flesh can not.


Some of the nicest seafood I have ever eaten has been in Turkey, but very often in the form of the fresh, the white, the inimitable. Fish are everywhere, live in buckets or slithering on ice, twisted with rigor, in varieties unobtainable in Britain, and are often very simply grilled or fried. Sometimes, though, for mezze dishes, the treatments are a little more complex. The following is based on a dish we ate in Kadikoy, the Asian side of Istanbul, a very unusual preparation of mackerel, almost confited in a spiced, syrupy oil.



For 8 as a mezze, perhaps 4 as a starter, with some bread and salad

8 mackerel fillets, pinboned

2 tsp coriander seeds


200ml pomegranate molasses

100ml red wine vinegar

8 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced

grated zest of one orange

6 banana shallots, thinly sliced

500ml good olive oil


You can leave the fillets whole, or slice them in half widthways and then again lengthways for ease of eating as a mezze, either way, salt lightly and set aside.

In a wide pan (ideally wide enough to fit the fish in one layer, and deep enough to hold all the ingredients) gently toast the coriander seeds until they start to give up their aroma, then pour in the molasses and vinegar. Stir them together, then add the garlic, orange zest, and shallots. Let the mixture simmer for a bit, although you don’t want it to cook particularly.

Lay the fish in evenly, and then pour the oil over it. Warm it over a very gentle heat – you will see bubbles coming up through and from the fish – until the pieces of mackerel are just, just cooked, having lost their translucent grayness. Remove the pan from the heat, cover, and set aside – the mackerel will carry on cooking as they cool.

Serve with some of the juices and some appropriate accompaniments.


Tomato & Pomegranate Ketchup

I’ve spent the last couple of days developing recipes for Pickle & Smoke, curing rabbit, salting and pickling various things. This ketchup was a late addition, as I wanted to replace the rejigged bought stuff we had been using before.

House-made ketchup has become pretty common in cafés and gastropubs, in a form that’s now almost as standardised as Heinz – based, I think, on the excellent recipe in the River Cottage preserves book, it is a roast tomato passata that gets spiced, seasoned and reduced. This results in a sort of relish, which is delicious in its own way but a little wholesome, and not much like the glossy, sweet sauce that everyone secretly loves. It also takes bloody ages to make, what with roasting and puréeing and boiling and passing and reducing.

I wanted something a bit more Heinz-y, a bit trashier, for Pickle & Smoke, so I though I’d try the recipe in Marc Grossman’s New York Cult Recipes, which is basically a stock thickened with tomato purée and cornflour. The result is satisfyingly shiny, triggering that gastronomic nostalgia, with the added bonus that you can add whatever else takes your fancy, at either the stock or thickening stage. A bit of messing around yielded this, heavily adapted from Grossman –

About 2 litres, but it should keep well. Easily halvable, anyhow.

For the stock –
2 sticks of celery
1 onion
6 garlic
1 carrot
1 tblspn smoked paprika
1 tsp allspice
900 ml water
400 ml pickle juice (I had some left over – half and half water and lemon, with a splash of vinegar and some salt and sugar. You could just use water and up the seasonings later.)

Finely dice the vegetables and sweat in a little oil until the onions turn translucent and soften slightly. Add the spices and cook, stirring, until they lose that raw smell. Add the liquids, bring to the boil, and simmer for 10 minutes or so. Strain, discarding the spent vegetables, and make the stock up to 1300ml with some water if it’s reduced too much.

For the ketchup –
The stock
280g tomato purée (2 of those little tins)
250g caster sugar
4 tblspns pomegranate molasses
1 tblspn really hot hot sauce, or to taste. (I used a home-made West Indian style one with loads of scotch bonnets in it)
2 tblspns mustard powder
4 tblspns cornflour
400ml white wine vinegar

Put the stock in a pan with the purée, sugar, molasses and hot sauce and bring to a steady simmer, whisking as you go. Let it bubble away for about 5 minutes, giving it a stir occasionally.

Beat the mustard powder and cornflour into the vinegar, making sure there are no lumps, then add to the pan. Simmer for another 5 minutes or so until nicely thickened. If you didn’t use pickle juice, it’ll need a fair bit of salt, so give it a taste, remembering that it’ll be less aggressively sweet when it’s cold, and that inhaling hot vinegar is not fun.

Done. Put into bottles or jars or whatever (you should do the sterilising thing if you want it to keep for ages) and you have minor gifts sorted for the next year. Or keep to yourself for secret chicken nugget feasts.