I am very fond of fish, but so often I’m disappointed when I eat it in restaurants; I’ve been to some very good restaurants and had some very good fish… but the actual dish before me is disappointing. However, on a recent visit to the Netherlands, I was not disappointed at all! I had a stunning fish dish – well, the whole menu was stunning from my starters of ostrich, to my fishy sea bass main served with a wonderful array of vegetables including witloof (chicory) wrapped in ham and covered with a light cheese sauce, to the strawberry dessert which I donated to my dining companions – I’m not that keen on desserts!
Back to fish… and my favourite fish is herring; yes, I know the herring is quite humble compared to other more fashionable fish, but I can’t think of another which beats it on flavour. I like it cooked any way… perhaps my favourite is simply fried in butter and eaten with bread… but here is an intriguing recipe I came across from that famous TV chef, Philip Harben, in his useful little book, Cooking Quickly.
Herrings in white wine (or cider)
Clean the herrings thoroughly, remove the heads and pack them closely together in a fireproof dish (you can split them in two and fillet them if you wish) with very thin sliced onion, bay leaves, peppercorns and chillies. Cover with boiling white wine, dilute with water if need be, and cook very gently, below boiling point,with the lid on,f or about ten minutes. Allow the herrings to gt cold in this liquor, which, with any luck, may jellify.
And don’t forget the humbled soused herrings, done in the same way but in vinegar instead of wine.
Mr Harben doesn’t tell us how many herrings, and I like him for expecting us to have some thoughts in our heads! Once again, to all those who are so disparaging about British cooking, in 1946, when this book was published, Philip Harben expected his readers to have chillies in their store cupboards – they may have been dried chillies, but just after the war what else could be expected?! ‘White wine, dilute with water if need be’ … I bet Philip didn’t dilute his wine! however, for many people wine would have been a luxury, in short supply, so dilution may have been seventy years ago, the only way to do it. Oh and what a great word ‘jellify’ is!