Silver darlings

Categories: News and previews

Ahead of his upcoming oily fish demo, Luke Mackay explains why he is compelled by the historic resonance of herring and left absolutely cold by all the guff surrounding omega 3

Image: John Holdship

I could not give a tinker’s cuss about omega 3. No idea what it is. Don’t have a clue, mate. Don’t care. Think I used to play Pac-Man on it in the late eighties but apart from that it’s just words swirling around in my personal ether—like ‘carburettor ‘, ‘Jimmy Choo’ or ‘Pokémon’—that I have no business knowing about. I have literally no interest in how a carburettor works, or what omega 3 does to my tummy.

But omega 3 is ALL you will hear about if literally anyone writes about oily fish. Omega 3 fatty acids will cure your leprosy! Liven up the bedroom! Make you hurdle like an Olympian! Eat oily fish and suck up all those life-enhancing lovely fatty acids!

Well I don’t care for such nonsense, but if I hear the phrase ‘silver darlings’ used to describe herring, my cholesterol-laden heart skips a beat at the symbiotic wonderment of nature and our mother tongue. Silver darlings. I love them so, glinting in the late evening Cornish sun as they are pulled in glistening masses onto dayboats rusted and ancient with stories of yore and stains of tar.

Life-giving sustenance
They used to be all we ate. They were the most popular protein for millions and millions of people in these isles, plucked from the icy waters, smoked, salted, devoured, providing life-giving sustenance to the poor and an entire industry to hundreds of villages and ports on the south-west coast of England and the east coast of Scotland

Take tiny Clovelly, for example: fisherman have trawled the seas here for at least a thousand years and at the height of the herring trade in the 18th and 19th centuries, there were 100 boats based at the north Devon port, fishing for those beautiful silver darlings. In 1814, 3.6 million herring were landed, with every man in the village employed in the trade until just over a hundred years ago. There’s one now. One brave, poor soul fighting against the dying of the light.

Shake you by the lapels
I love the poetry and the history but it’s the taste that really makes me want to shake you by the lapels and make you eat more herring. No, it’s not ‘too fishy’ or ‘too bony’ or whatever reason it was that made us as a nation fill our boots with fishfingers and forget our silver darlings. Try writing poetry about a fishfinger.

More to the point, try eating one and then some of my fresh Sussex herrings, caught on a day boat yesterday, filleted by me today and fried in butter and bacon fat with a golden crust of oats. Try them and tell me that we, in our neglect of herrings haven’t committed an act of culinary, cultural and historical vandalism of which we should all be a little bit ashamed.

Join Luke for tips, tastings and recipes on Friday 18th November in the Market Hall, 12:30-2pm