Spring dinner parties are best for light dinners that remind you that summer is oh so close. In this salad, fresh fish with a bit of oil in it pairs just beautifully with tart rhubarb. Try it with mackerel or trout or even anchovies. Your next weekend brunch party will be a hit, promise. -Maggie
I spotted the rhubarb propped up next to a pyramid of cauliflowers on a tiny roadside stall. The stalks stood alert in their rosy glow uniform like a regiment of the Queen’s Guard. As I picked up a bunch, I noticed that field-rhubarb differed from forced rhubarb; it was not really red, but green with freckles of crimson, as if slightly sun-tanned. The stalks were firm and cold and I bought two bunches.
Later, I was at the fishmongers trying to decide if any fish would partner up with rhubarb. The fisherman, still in his overalls, reminded me that mackerel season was starting again. Mackerel and rhubarb.
Not as strange as it sounds; the sharpness of the rhubarb cuts through the oily little fish and I thought about goat’s cheese too. A trio of big flavours on the plate, they end up complimenting each other perfectly. The only issue for me is the mackerel. I love it, but only if it’s incredibly fresh. If it’s more than 24 hours old, I’m not interested. This might sound hugely snobby, but mackerel is at it’s best straight out the sea when the skin is glistening, the taste is a little briny and the flesh is very firm. After a day or so, mackerel begins to taste very ‘fishy’, which paradoxically, is never what you want from a fish. If you can’t find fresh mackerel, choose sardines, red mullet, or something suitably oily.
Grilled Mackerel with Rhubarb, Watercress & Goat’s Cheese Salad
- 4 mackerel fillets – fresh as possible
- 2 long stems of rhubarb – cut into 1 inch pieces
- 1 orange – squeezed
- ¼ cup caster sugar
- 3 oz goat’s cheese
- 1.5 oz peeled walnuts – toasted
- 2-3 handfuls of watercress
- Preheat the oven to 300°F. Cut the rhubarb into equal length pieces and place in an ovenproof dish. Try not to over lap rhubarb or lay on top of each other.
- Sprinkle the sugar over the rhubarb and pour over the orange juice. Cover with foil or a lid and bake for 20 minutes. Test the rhubarb, it needs to be soft enough to take a knife, but firm enough to remain in one piece. If it needs a bit longer, turn off the oven and leave the dish in. A nice pink liqueur should have trickled into the dish.
- Turn the broiler to a high heat. Place the mackerel fillets on a tray and drizzle a little oil over and then season. On a separate tray, add the walnuts. Place the mackerel under the broiler and cook for 5 minutes. Toast the walnuts for about a minute too.
- Meanwhile, clean the watercress in a large bowl, crumble in the goat’s cheese, dress with a touch of olive oil and season.
- Add eight to ten pieces of rhubarb to the salad. Roughly chop the walnuts and sprinkle them into the salad.
- Toss the salad very lightly and then divide equally onto two plates.
- Lay the mackerel fillets on the bed of salad and dress everything with a couple of teaspoons of the rhubarb liqueur.
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