I was inspired to post my own recipe after seeing even the Great British Chefs were being ridiculous (tinned mackerel & mayonnaise? Heathens!).
I’ve tried several kinds of fish – mackerel, sea bass, sea bream, river trout, and more. Trout is great; clean-tasting and inexpensive (although sea bass doesn’t have those fiddly bones.) It’s divine as a snack, starter, or canape.
Makes: 750g – 1 litre (but it’s easily halved)
- 2 whole fish, gutted and scaled – heads on is fine
- 1 unwaxed lemon, sliced into 8 slices
- 1 whole frond fresh dill, chopped; or, 1 tablespoon dried dill
- Fresh ground black or rainbow peppercorns
- 3 – 4 tablespoons creme fraiche or soured cream (plain yoghurt will do)
- Large grinding of sea salt
- 1 tsp finely chopped gherkins (optional)
- 2 tablespoons small capers, drained (plus additional for garnish – optional)
- 1 tablespoon hot mustard (ideally English; Dijon will do)
- 2 tablespoons horseradish cream
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme (lemon thyme, if you have it, works wonderfully); or, 2 tsp dried thyme
- A baking tray
- Tin foil
- Mixing bowl
- Preheat oven to 190 C (170 C fan-assisted).
- Place 4 lemon slices into each of the fish’s cavities. Wrap each fish separately in tightly crimped tin foil [similar to the shape of a Cornish pasty] so you have a parcel, with some room above/around the fish for steam.
- Bake for 25 – 30 minutes depending on the size of the fish. Turn the tin foil parcels over (and the baking tray around) for even baking halfway through. NOTE: you really can’t over-cook the fish for this recipe, so don’t worry.
- Remove the tray from the oven. Open the parcels and leave to cool for 10 minutes, until the fish are ready to handle. Scrape/pull off the skin (and any fins) on the side facing you, and slice the spine near the head. Make a slice at the tail so you can grab the end of the spine, and lift it off with the upper fillet from the rest of the body. Turn over the fillet into a bowl and carefully drop/work the flesh from the spine.
- Lift the remaining half of the fish from the foil, leaving the skin behind, and put all the flesh into the bowl. Squeeze over the cooked lemon slices; pick through the bowl for any small bones; then repeat for the 2nd fish.
- Add all remaining ingredients, tasting repeatedly as you go. Once you’re happy with the seasoning, herbs, other additions, and consistency, transfer into a serving dish, or a container for the fridge. This will keep for up to one week, properly chilled.
Goodness, this could go on and on. You can add whatever spices and/or herbs take your fancy. Try coriander, parsley, tarragon, garam masala, paprika, chives, fennel, chilli, or more – what’s most important is the balance of flavours.
Just get some crackers/savoury biscuits/crispbreads/vol au vents and you’re ready to serve. I like sprinkling a couple of capers over the top for that extra salty/vinegar hit; you could also drape slices of roasted red pepper (or very softened onion, finely chopped chives or other herbs, etc) for a ‘cheffy’ look, and additional flavour.