Campsite Cooking: Peppered Mackerel Pilaf
Guyrope Gourmet Josh Sutton rustles up a classic fish dish with a seaside flavour
I do like to be beside the seaside. Coastal camping, lying in the tent listening to the waves crash on the beach, as you drift off to sleep with a full tummy and an empty wine glass, is pretty hard to beat. Camping on the Farm at Aberaeron, Cae Du a few miles up the coast, Golden Cap in Dorset and Wold Farm on Flamborough Head, are some of my favourite places. You can relax to the sound of the waves in the distance, like a tidal hypnotist lulling you into submission.
Of course, as well as the sound of the sea, one of the other great things about camping by the coast is the taste of the sea. From seaweed to shellfish, the coastal waters around Britain are among the richest in the world, particularly when it comes to fish.
Now I know that seafood isn’t to everyone’s taste, but in my book a fresh-caught fish makes for an unforgettable feast. Grilled whole over a barbecue or an open fire, and sandwiched in a hunk of crusty bread slathered in butter, you don’t need much else to go with it.
Unless of course you are upping the inner Guyrope Gourmet and fancy something a bit more sophisticated. There are two types of fish, “oily fish” like mackerel, herring and sardines, and “white fish” such as cod, haddock and plaice. In general, white fish will keep a little longer than their oily cousins, but as far as I’m concerned it should all be eaten on the day you catch (or buy) it. That is, of course, unless it’s preserved in some way. Herrings smoked, as kippers or pickled as roll-mops. Cod, salted and dried, or mackerel fillets smoked and rolled in whole black peppercorns.
The beauty of fish that’s been preserved is that it will generally keep a little longer than fresh fish, but also it’s available in supermarkets if you’re not lucky enough to be camping by the sea. This recipe uses smoked peppered mackerel, which comes vacuum packed giving it a little more longevity in the cool box.
The preserved mackerel doesn’t even need cooking. You just break it up and add it to the rice to warm through shortly before serving. The trick here is not to over-cook the rice so that it goes stodgy. I’ve always found that if you use twice the water-to-rice ratio then the grains remain plump and firm and easy to fluff up with a fork.
PEPPERED MACKEREL PILAF
FOR THE RICE
8 oz basmati rice
6 whole black peppercorns
A pinch of saffron threads
A pinch of sea salt
1 tsp vegetable stock powder
3 star anise
16 fluid ounces water
FOR THE PILAF
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion finely chopped
A handful of sliced chestnut mushrooms
A handful of frozen (or fresh) small peas
2 or 3 fillets of smoked peppered mackerel
Sweet chilli sauce (optional)
To cook the rice, place all of the ingredients in a saucepan, place a lid on the pan and bring to the boil.
Once at the boil, turn the heat to low, remove the lid and cover the pan with a folded tea towel.
Replace the lid tightly and fold up the corners of the tea towel to stop them burning on the flame.
Leave to cook on the lowest heat for 15 minutes or until all of the water has been absorbed by the rice. Remove from heat and leave to stand with the lid on while you prepare the pilaf.
Heat the oil in a large frying pan, or a wok, and add the chopped onion. Cook gently until the onion begins to brown then add the sliced mushrooms and stir to soak up most of the oil. Next add the cooked rice and the peas and stir through with a fork, removing the star anise as they appear.
Continue to cook over a moderate flame while you remove the skin from the mackerel fillets and break the fish into pieces into the pan. Stir through to ensure the mackerel is evenly distributed and is warmed through. Serve on warm plates with a large dollop of sweet Thai chilli sauce.