Bringing You the Daily Dispatch

‘The trout lasagne is very good!’ How I recreated six classic beef dishes – with oily fish
Environment Science World News

‘The trout lasagne is very good!’ How I recreated six classic beef dishes – with oily fish

“What’s for supper?” my wife asks. We are watching the six o’clock news and the pause I leave before answering is longer than I mean it to be. I’m trying to find the words.

“Fish wellington,” I say, finally. The silence that follows is longer still.

“Oh no,” whispers my wife.

I probably shouldn’t have put it that way – “salmon en croute” might have conveyed the same idea more palatably – but I am attempting to replace the red meat in our diet with fish, specifically so-called forage species such as herring, anchovies and sardines. This is based on findings that such a switch could prevent diet-related diabetes, reduce our carbon footprint and save up to 750,000 lives globally by 2050. According to the study, published this month, such a shift could have staggering health benefits worldwide, eliminating between 8m and 15m years of life lived with a disability. So, I am on the lookout for ways to use oily fish as I once used red meat.

Oily fish, rich in “omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids”, include mackerel, salmon, sardines, pilchards (which are actually large sardines) and sprats. All of them have their culinary possibilities; none of them are a great like-for-like substitute for red meat. That doesn’t mean people haven’t tried. Now, though, it’s my turn.

Salmon wellington

Salmon wellington, as cooked by Tim DowlingView image in fullscreen

We don’t normally eat beef wellington on a Wednesday, but it’s one of the first recipes I find where a straight swap seems possible. Based on my wife’s reaction, I don’t think we will be eating fish wellington on any future Wednesdays.

My recipe is adapted from the website of the Fulton Fish Market in New York City. My main changes involve corner-cutting – the recipe tells me to leave my mushroom-coated salmon fillet in the fridge overnight, but whatever advantage is gained from that seems outweighed by the drawback of leaving oily fish sitting around for an extra day. In the end, I chill it for about two hours.

Before that, the mushrooms are sautéed with onion, garlic and thyme, reduced to a puree in a food processor and mixed with cooked lentils. The resulting gloop is spread on sheets of nori – the seaweed that sushi is wrapped in – which are then rolled up and over the salmon, with the resulting parcel tightly sealed in clingfilm. Once it’s chilled, the clingfilm is peeled off and the whole thing is wrapped in ready-made puff pastry.

None of this is difficult – the biggest issue is size. I use a 350g piece of salmon – halved and stacked, for height – and it still requires a whole roll of pastry. Anyway, it is more than enough for two, especially if one of them refuses to eat it. It looks impressive and tastes fine, but it’s heavy. While it may well be rich in long-chain fatty acids, I don’t think you can call anything a health food once it has been wellingtonised.

Sardine burger

A sardine burgerView image in fullscreen

I’ll be honest, this seemed like a bad idea from the outset: a mix of panko breadcrumbs, egg, coriander, grated onion, garlic, ginger and tinned sardines. A lot of people are snobbish about tinned fish – and I am certainly one of them. I can’t imagine a recipe that wouldn’t be improved by leaving them out.

The patties formed from this mixture are baked for roughly 25 minutes. I put one on a bun and garnish it with tartare sauce, which helps a little, but the fishy taste is still overwhelming – and not in a good way. I am disappointed. The recipe I followed, from Funky Asian Kitchen, spoke enthusiastically about the place of preserved fish in many culinary traditions; I wanted this to be better. But it was pretty grim, except for the tartare sauce. At least I didn’t have to worry about my wife, who now refuses to eat with me.

Mackerel kebabs

Mackerel and red onion kebabsView image in fullscreen

This Hairy Bikers recipe calls for fresh mackerel, which I like, but it has to be filleted. I make a pig’s ear of this: it takes me about half an hour to remove all the remaining bones with pliers. You can, of course, ask a fishmonger to do this for you, but my local fishmonger never seems to be in the mood for small favours. In fact, he appears to despise me, as if my insistence on purchasing fish during normal opening hours represents not just an inconvenience, but a monstrous injustice. It could be that he treats everyone this way; I never hang around long enough to find out.

Anyway, the mangled mackerel fillets go into a marinade of red wine vinegar, lemon zest, oregano and olive oil for half an hour or, ideally, a bit longer. Then they are threaded on to skewers between two quarters of red onion. The kebabs can be barbecued, grilled or griddled for about five minutes on each side. In my case, this leads to further mangling – the fish sticks to the griddle and comes apart when I attempt to turn it. It’s delicious, but my presentation is abysmal.

I should mention that there are some questions over the sustainability of mackerel – depending on the source – due to overfishing. In Britain, the Marine Conservation Society recommends line-caught mackerel from the south-west. If you are worried, you should ask your fishmonger where they get it, something that, for obvious reasons, I didn’t do.

Spaghetti and fishballs

Spaghetti and fishballsView image in fullscreen

This notion comes from a Jamie Oliver store-cupboard recipe I found on the Tesco website. It couldn’t be simpler. The fishballs are a mashup of cannellini beans, white bread, lemon zest and tinned mackerel. I use pilchards because the tins are prettier and because I can’t believe it makes a difference. By which I mean: I can’t believe there is a way to make this any worse that it sounds.

The fishballs are fried in olive oil on a medium-high heat for five to eight minutes, give or take. The spaghetti sauce is basic: tinned tomatoes, garlic and oil. This feels like the sort of thing you might cook up in a Norwegian hunter’s cabin while waiting out a blizzard. You would certainly need a reason not to leave in search of other food.

But you know what? It’s not disgusting. In fact, it’s the best replacement dish I have tried yet. The fishballs don’t hold together very well, but the balance between the beans and the pilchards is palatable. Would I make this again? Probably not, but I am glad I know how, in case I am ever stuck in a blizzard.

Trout lasagne

Fish lasagneView image in fullscreen

A whole week goes by before my wife dares again to ask what we are having for supper. Her eyes remain fixed on the television.

“Fish lasagne,” I say, trying to sound casual. This time, my wife says nothing. I think she might be crying.

The fish lasagne is, however, a legit dish, adapted from a recipe by the chef Tom Kitchin, which in turn is based on a Scandinavian dish he learned from his wife. It is a straightforward layering of lasagne sheets, bechamel, spinach, leeks, cheddar and smoked salmon (or, in my case, smoked trout). In the end, my wife agrees to eat it only if I leave one end of the lasagne trout-free.

She was wrong to panic. The trout lasagne is very good, if probably best suited to a cold winter night. It’s also easy to make, although it’s not necessarily an economical alternative to traditional meat-based lasagne. My version used up £15-worth of smoked trout. But then, as my wife would no doubt insist, it works just as well without.

Pan-fried sardines

Tim Dowling’s fried sardinesView image in fullscreen

This is what I would normally do with a load of fresh sardines anyway: clean them, dip them in flour, fry them on both sides, squeeze over a lemon and then eat them with my fingers, preferably outside.

Taken on their own terms, rather than squeezed into a recipe where they don’t belong, oily fish are a perfectly good replacement for red meat. But it has been a long week and I feel as though I am beginning to overdose on omega-3 long-chain fatty acids. It’s time, perhaps, for my wife to choose what we eat and for me to push my tinned fish to the back of the cupboard until the next blizzard strikes.

Source: theguardian.com