Sometimes, it’s only in retrospect that we realise what is happening to us. With the clarity offered by my hindsight goggles, I see now that I had spent about two months attempting to navigate my way through a fog of biscuit crumbs before resigning and lying amongst the chocolate digestive detritus. I wasn’t really cooking, I’d lost faith in baking (reinforced by a couple of cake failures) and there seemed to be no hope. It would be a bit of a stretch to say that this recipe saved me, but it did reinvigorate something in me. Through its vibrancy it opened up some sort of drive within me, and I rediscovered my omega 3 of purpose.
The recipe is inspired by one of my favourites, Nigel Slater, but I have changed/added a couple of elements. For some reason, I have begun to associate determination with crispy fish skin, so I started off by dipping my mackerel fillets in seasoned flour. Butter beans were simmering in a pan, to which I added fenugreek, salt and pepper. I could forget about them for the moment for they would yield under my fork soon enough.
Bacon fried in a griddle pan before being removed and replaced by pieces of chopped up aubergine, tossed every so often until their countenance bared a pleasing char. The heat was moderately high, so that they didn’t just stagnate and go soggy, like I was. A little dash of olive oil and some chopped garlic went in.
Meanwhile, some oil went into another pan on a moderately high heat. The mackerel went in skin side down for a couple of minutes whilst I sprinkled over some chopped rosemary, seasoning and a few capers. After a flip over (a flip that was filled with conviction, may I add) I reached for the stuff that would bring it all together. Some time ago I had got the idea to make cucumber and elderflower jam, in my head the combination worked. After picking elderflowers and making a syrup from them, cooking down the cucumbers and gradually adding the syrup until they were simmering in a floral bath, I poured my cucumber and elderflower jam into jars. I had enjoyed making it, but I had no idea what to do with it – I wasn’t sure it would work in a cake, or on toast for that matter, but there was some hope in dinner.
Thus, a couple of spoonfuls were dolloped into the pan along with the mackerel with a dash of white wine vinegar. I watched as it bubbled with vigour, and inspired by this, I began to mash my beans until it took on an amorphous aspect. I removed the fish from the pan and added a bit of water to the pan and adjusted and reduced till it was the right consistency. The bacon from earlier was chopped up and introduced to the aubergine via a few final tosses.
This dish was what I needed – the crispy skin, the sweet, piquant sauce that cut through the oiliness of the mackerel, the charred aubergine’s smokiness accentuated by the bacon, the creamy bean mash that provided a subtly flavoured foundation for this dialogue upon my palate. Perhaps it was the vibrancy of the dish, the omega 3, or the fact that I had finally found a use for the cucumber and elderflower jam that was lying around, but it injected some crispiness into my life, a floral sweetness that gave me hope – hope to start cooking again, to start living again.