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Spring Mackerel Salad

I have opinions on fish.

Once upon a time, pretty much as long ago as I can remember, my dad owned a fishing tackle shop in South Manchester. He has always and still does like to fly fish ALOT. We would go on holiday to places so that my mother could paint and my father could fish – as a general rule this would equate to places where it rained, 24/7. However, my family holidays were filled with many a joyful moment attempting to make both painting and fishing (not at the same time..) a skill of my own. I failed on both counts!

What I also gleaned from these trips was that fish farming seemed to be, amongst my father and his fishermen friends, a particularly unpopular development in the world of aquatic vertebrae.

We would stay in fishing and hunting lodges and I remember posters with visual examples of how to spot a farmed fish in your spoils. The images of farmed fish didn’t look too happy. Dead grey eyes, flaking scales and ravaged fins were on offer whilst above sat a plump healthy salmon with sparkling pupils and a full coat of scaly armour. As sure as I am that this poster was to an extent an exaggeration it put me right off any fish that might have seen a farm.

All of that is all well and good. However as someone who loves food and spends a lot of time eating in restaurants that probably use farmed fish and so on I have definitely gone against my childhood morals since that first depiction of fish farming. But I have been thinking on fish farming of late, and considering this article in the Guardian, it seems to me that packing fish in like battery hens is potentially becoming more acceptable…thoughts most welcome. It strikes me that as a nation who are consistently made aware of battery farming land animals we should probably take note of the marine equivalent.

As a result of these considerations I left work the other night craving fish, and managed to find some smoked sustainably sourced Mackerel to add to a warm spring salad for two.

2 smoked Mackerel fillets (preferably line-caught)

5/6 spring onions dependent on size, chopped (to create little green&white pinstripe cylinders)

4 cloves of garlic,crushed

Lots of little tomatoes (we used red and yellow), halfed

New potatoes

Creme Fraiche

Mustard

a couple of chillis, chopped (remove seeds if you don’t want it too hot)

Parsley (only a sprinkling of torn up flat leaf)

Any other springy bits and pieces you have kicking about the fridge (We had some red onion salsa left over from dinner the previous night)

Herby leaves on the side (Dandelion would work well)

*Put the potatoes on to cook with lots of water and some salt

*In a big pan with a little olive oil fry spring onions, garlic and chilli until soft but only the palest shades of golden

*Add the fish and flake up, stirring to coat everything in the garlic and chilli flavours

*Drain the potatoes and chop up into chunks (I have a pretty big gob so for me this is big – I’m sure all you civilised folks out there have perfect petite mouths – in which case – chop smaller)

*Chuck the potatoes into the big pan

*Stir everything around to get it all coated and amalgamated, check the seasoning – probably add pepper, salt will depend on your fish

*Add the tomatoes and the rest of the fridge foraging finds *Once the tomatoes have started to melt down into the mixture add Creme Fraiche to taste, and check the seasoning

*Scatter over the parsely and serve with salad leaves and a fair drizzle of balsamic.

I have no further photos – I was starving!

But I do have fish related links:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/feb/24/farmed.fish.climate.change

http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/tags/fish-farming

http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/blog/oceans/north_sea

http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/oceans/what-we-are-doing/sustainable-seafood/sustainable-seafood-frequently-asked-questions

http://www.msc.org/

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vokzal

The Russian word for train station, apparently (according to Wikipedia…) due to a little trip to view the construction of the London & South Western Railway at Vauxhall, South West London, by some Russians, who then took the Proper Noun name of station to be the noun for train stations in general.

Fact. (ish)

Vauxhall is also the home to a large part of the Portuguese population of London (not Russians, that part was mainly irrelevant). As a result, it is also home to several amazing Portuguese cafes, one of which J took me to last week.

Being in Estrela felt like being in a small town cafe somewhere in the Algarve, the atmosphere is warm and friendly, the service attentive without being annoying and on the occasion of our visit Portuguese football was on the tele.

Straight off, and as usual with tapas, we over ordered. Also as usual, we still finished it all. We ordered grilled Sardines, Bacalhau (Salt Cod Fritters), Chorizo in firewater (setting something on fire almost always = better, non?), Pork and Broad Bean Stew, Sardine Pate and Patatas Bravas.

I apologise in advance for the lack of pictures…still no digital camera to my name!

Sardine Pate, which appeared first alongside the Bread and Olives was like an upmarket, yummy version of the fish paste which I remember my Grandmother eating when I was a child, I probably could have eaten just that and bread.

The Sardines were fresh, crispy and perfect, you get four in one portion and they are left as whole fish so you do have to take the flesh of the bones. I’m not one to be squeamish about bones, but if you are I suppose this could seem a bit of a faff. But they are worth it..despite the simplicity of the cooking method, having eaten Sardines newly caught in Greece on several occasions, I can attest to these being very fresh and well cooked.

Bacalhau was as good as any I have eaten and definitely better than the ones I attempted to make on Bank Holiday Monday (mine weren’t bad, they were ahem…different – will try again). Patatas Bravas were also really good, tomato sauce had a nice level of heat, greatly appreciated having eaten so many blandly seasoned tomato sauces in the past.

The pork dishes, however, ‘stole the show.’ I must qualify at this stage that I have never eaten Portuguese Tapas but J used to live around the corner from Estrella and spent many evenings and lots of long Sundays in here before I muscled my way onto the scene, so he ordered the Chorizo in Firewater, and I had no expectations. The Chorizo arrived, a big, thick, red curl of a sausage sitting on top of a sort of terracotta grill with some sort of booze (Brandy? Whiskey?) alight in the bottom of the dish. Although some would accuse this of being a naff spectacle I am easily entertained. It was also lovely as a result, the flame kept the fat in the sausage juicy as we ate it bit at a time with the other dishes.

The final dish was the Pork and Broad Bean Stew which was the one dish I picked that J had never eaten, being the sucker for beans that I am. Again, sorry to go on but, it was amazing. It had bits of Chorizo, Lardons and Rib, all had been cooked slowly to melting point with the beans in tow. The whole thing tasted of pork fat and pork and beans…..and everything that is good and right with the world.

All in all, Estrela is worth a trip for what I feel is a pretty authentic Portuguese cafe experience. By all accounts there is a couple of other really good Portuguese restaurants around there, some a similar experience and others slightly more upmarket. There are also several Delis which weren’t open the day we went as it was Good Friday. If you don’t know the South Lambeth road and you like Iberian food stuffs, now is the time to find it!

Bar Estrela
113-115 South Lambeth Road, Vauxhall, London SW8 1UZ

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