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FOOD: Keeping things simple

Simple food, the stuff of life

Redmond CabotRedmond Cabot

Looking at it sideways, food – and how we consume it – is often wrapped up in memories of people and places.
I enjoy sitting in Ina Scahill’s kitchen as she lifts a newly baked bread or scone on the table. Why? Is it the ingredient mix she uses, the taste off my tongue, her smile, her family rushing in and out, her casual enquiries to see if there is ‘any news’? Or is it Frodo, dog-grinning up at me trying his luck to have a cheeky snaffle of fresh food. Is food just about purchasing a packet and consuming a product or is it something more?
Childhood memories are wrapped up with people and experiences: Sitting on a blanket on the red and black kitchen tiles around the skirt tails of my mother Penny while she worked around and above me baking at the Aga and a dusty apron. Going for tea with granny Winifred, cracking open farm eggs for tea and making soldiers from toast to dip in, the blue and white egg cups as clear in my mind as the ordering for the restaurant I have to do today. Simple food in simpler times…
And what could be more simple and more delicious than mackerel, that flashy, iridescent grey-blue, almost green-striped fish that is now in abundance around our coast? Pure torpedoes of protein and rich in Omega 3s. Not to be boring, but surely every Mayo person should have a doctor’s cert prescribing this glorious fish. No excuse! Where is the annual Mackerel Festival…?
As with all fish, check for firm, shiny bodies and clear, bright eyes. Try grilling the fish whole on the barbecue with coarse sea salt and a generous squeeze of lime, or simply pan-fry and serve with a refreshing mint and mustard vinaigrette. Avoid heavy, cream-based sauces – the richness of mackerel is enough of a stomach filler as it is.

Fillet of mackerel with dill and new potatoes
> 4 mackerel
> 1lb new potatoes
> Bunch of fresh dill, chopped, keep stalks
> 50g/2oz seasoned flour
> 25ml/1fl oz vegetable oil
> 25g/1oz unsalted butter
> 1 lemon
> salt

>  Ask shop to fillet the mackerel for you or fillet yourself.
>  Boil the new potatoes in a pan of well-salted water with the dill stalks.
>  Dust the fillets in the seasoned flour and shake off any excess. Heat the oil in a frying pan and add a knob of the butter. Fry the mackerel for three minutes on each side, then remove from the pan and keep warm.
>  Pour away the fish-frying oil and butter. Add the rest of the butter to the pan and heat until it smells nutty. Squeeze the juice of half the lemon into the pan then pour over the fillets. Season the mackerel with salt, sprinkle over the dill and serve with the remaining half of the lemon wedges.

Some wine with that?
Last week somebody in the restaurant was chatting about their garden and how different things grow better in different areas. I was asking if they thought the recent dry spell had changed the make-up of lettuce leaves, as they had not seemed as wet or rich to me after the dry spell as when rain assisted their growing.
The question of whether or not lettuce grew better in a more sheltered spot came up, and it reminded me about how wine growers actually try to ‘stress’ their vines to grow a better quality wine grape. ’Tis true, if a vine is planted in rich, loamy soil it has it too easy and produces grapes of variable quality. However, if planted on rocky, bare hills with little soil, the poor plant responds best by putting up a fight, resiliently putting down deep roots and becoming a hardy bugger. This draws up the all important mineral influences and the ‘stressed’ vine produces a better grape for wine!
I’m not saying that you should plant your potato crops on a high hill facing West, but it just goes to show how sometimes, a life too easy produces insipid wine. Can’t beat the old daily struggle. Wine is like life.
With this in mind, how do you think the huge vineyards in Australia or the New World cope with planting thousands upon thousands of acres of unchanging arable flat land? It’s not conducive to producing wine with any diversity.
The very fact that the big-brand wines taste the same year in year out should not be a comfort to consumers, but a worry, A crop is a reflection of that particular year’s particular set of circumstances, and in reality no wine should taste the same year in year out.
Diversity is all, diversity is key. Let us celebrate it and be strong enough to stand up against sameness. Let’s support the little guy.