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Let’s do lunch: pickled mackerel with beetroots, apple & crème fraiche

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A light and elegant fish dish from Elliot’s Café

After seven years—riddled with a dispute over fishing quotas, theatrically-named ‘the mackerel war’—in May 2016, mackerel was safely returned to MSC’s certified sustainable list, placing this oily fish back on the plates of eco-conscious fish-eaters, and back on the menu at Elliot’s Café. “We want to make the most of seasonal produce and at the same time, minimise the impact on our environment,” runs Elliot’s founding ethos, and with head chef Matt Goddard, the sentiment holds fast.

“Our mackerel is sourced from two fisheries, one in Dorset, one in Cornwall, and it is caught and brought to us straight from day boats,” he explains, “so it’s all very sustainable, nice stuff.” Here it’s ‘cooked’ in, arguably, the most traditional way: pickled and served raw. “We brine and pickle the fish in-house, in a solution of cider vinegar, a little sugar, a pinch of salt, shallots, lemon zest and lots of herbs and spices—juniper berries, bay leaves—which takes about three days. It’s more of a sousing liquid,” he continues. “It firms the fish up and gives it a really delicious flavour.”

The skin is removed, the fillet sliced sashimi-style and plated alongside baby beetroots—“tiny, sweet little guys, boiled in a broth of sugar, sherry vinegar, bay leaves, thyme and rosemary. Not a huge amount of aromatics, but we just give them a little love to make them extra tasty”—and a garnish of sliced Chegworth Valley “nice and buttery” russet apples, dressed with pickling liquor and pickled shallots, an extra squeeze of lemon juice, some good olive oil and a couple of dollops of creme fraiche.

Get your juices flowing
It’s light, and super fresh, “a good early to-mid meal dish to freshen the palate and get your juices flowing for the next courses”—perfect alongside a small plate spread of, say, oysters, cheese and charcuterie.

Don’t wait around, though, or you might miss it, for this discerning chef only serves up the best: “The menu is seasonal, so it just depends what’s good at the moment—we are using russets at the moment because they’re what’s good, for example,” says Matt. “If in a few weeks’ time I can’t get any good mackerel, there won’t be any mackerel on the menu. It’s as simple as that.”