I was recently invited to join the maiden voyage for an exciting new Devon based company offering gastro trails and promoting small artisan producers. The tour I was lined up for was the FISH Trail, and it was a real adventure!It all kicked off before dawn at Rockets & Rascals, a cute little cafe & bicycle shop on the Barbican, possibly the most historic area of Plymouth. After we downed a coffee (or 2) we traipsed off towards Plymouth Fish Market. Who knew that Plymouth lays claim to hosting the second largest fish market in the country?We met Harbour Master Pete at the lock gates into Sutton Harbour, where he explained the importance of the lock in protecting over 500 homes from flooding, and the obscenely expensive yachts sheltered within the privately owned harbour.
He then led us inside the fish market itself, which wasn’t as noisy as I expected and the smell was actually quite pleasant. There were tonnes of different species layed out in plastic, ice filled crates although I only recognised a handful of them.
Apparently there have been 74 different species of seafood landed at Plymouth to date, and if you ever have the pleasure of meeting Pete, do ask him to share the story of the Sturgeon. With donations of an endangered species, police sirens and road blocks, tall fisherman’s tales don’t get much better!
Next we met up with our skipper & deckhand over a welcome bacon butty, before heading out to sea. We each dropped our lines for mackerel just outside the breakwater before heading out to deeper water to try our luck fishing for whiting.I think I was the only one on the trip that had ever fished for mackerel before, so I was really grateful when I finally caught my first of the day, long after most of the others I hasten to add. Does fishing bring out the competitive side of any one else?!
Next we headed back inland with our haul to The Boathouse Cafe where owner Ben gave us a master-class in preparing the fish.
A few of the mackerel were turned into sashimi which we dunked greedily into a mustard & soy sauce mixture, whilst the rest of the fish disappeared into the kitchen where chef Jay morphed them into various tasty platters.The first dish out were the Devilled Mackerel Bites below. They were so good I begged Jay to let me share the recipe here. Thankfully he agreed and they will definitely be repeated in my kitchen!The other dishes included fillets of battered whiting, with a really delicate and crisp batter that was so moreish, and grilled mackerel with Cornish chorizo and walnuts. I catch a lot of mackerel through the year, so I’m always looking out for new and interesting ways to cook them.
After stuffing ourselves senseless and chatting each other under the table, our lovely little group of intrepid explorers went our separate ways. I think each of us left with a much better idea of the importance of the fishing industry to Plymouth now as well as throughout history. It was lovely to fall in love once again with a city I used to live in, and to find that real & fresh food is available in the heart of a city.
Devilled Mackerel Bites
And now to the recipe! Here is chef Jay’s take on Devilled Mackerel bites. There are no measurements given but don’t let that put you off. Perhaps start off with a teaspoon of each (less of the szechuan & cayenne pepper if you’re wary of too much heat) and then play around with your mix, adding more of your favourites.
The dry spices will keep somewhere cool and dark for months and can be used on and in all sorts of dishes.
- Mustard seeds
- Mustard powder
- Cumin powder
- Cayenne pepper
- Szechuan pepper
- Worcester sauce
- Olive oil
- Mackerel fillets, cleaned & dried
- Dry fry the spices gently for a minute or two until fragrant, then take off the heat & let them cool.
- Once cool grind into a powder in a spice mill or coffee grinder.
- Mix in some Worcestershire sauce & olive oil, mixing well.
- Dredge both sides of each mackerel fillet in the spice mix before popping in a deep fat fryer for around 2 minutes or until golden.
- Remove from the fryer and drain on kitchen paper before serving with chips & mushy peas.