25 February 2012

Smoked Mackerel with Winter Couscous and ... a garlic mushroom?

Yes, the garlic mushroom was perhaps a step too far where this meal was concerned.

Still, although I wouldn't recommend the combination again, the garlic mushroom itself was just divine.  Hubby was the first to mention its being out of place beside the mackerel and couscous - which I couldn't comment upon because I'd eaten mine before I ate anything else.  It's been a while since we had those Portobello mushrooms in any dish, so oven baked with garlic butter meant it was a case of "hello old friend" and once I'd started, I found it impossible to stop.

I did see his point, however.  I suspect that being a mushroom-a-holic, just the idea of making the oven baked garlic mushroom was enough to convince me that it would fit nicely beside the other ingredients.  I had to have been suffering from mushroom blindness.  It's my only excuse, so I'm sticking to it.

Doesn't it look completely and utterly lush, though?  Ooooh yes.  I shall have to get some more and make them again for a weekend lunch, except this time slap them inside a crusty roll and make sure I'm wearing a bib to catch the juice as it drips down my chin.

I'll just be off for a bit of a lie down, I think.  Too much luscious mushroom imagery.

So, if possible, if we can forget about the mushroom involvement in this dish (~weeps~)?  The Winter Couscous, however, was completely brilliant and went beautifully with the rich smoked Mackerel.

Making the Winter Couscous is a breeze, so long as you've got a little bit of time beforehand and a kitchen door.  The door is necessary to be able to shut and so prevent your smoke alarm from going doo-lally as you chargrill the courgettes, peppers and red onion.  Having lots of windows (or another, back door) to open and so allow the smoke out and some air in, is another good idea.

I absolutely adore using my chargrill pan.  I always start off the process being a little bit scared of it, as it is cast iron and so gets utterly blindingly hot - including the handle.  I made the mistake of connecting with that handle once when we first got the thing - and I've been petrified of doing it again.   Making sure you've got an oven glove or tea towel to hand is a necessary I find.

The other thing that's a teensy bit skeery is that things tend to pop and crackle when cooking - particularly the red pepper.  Yes, I'm a big wimp and yes I did jump every time it popped or crackled, but once you get using the pan (and provided you remember to oil the food and not the pan) you find that it's not so scary after all.

I even began to feel quite professional, as I laid on the strips of courgette, then flipped them over and admired the chargrill stripes that appeared.  Almost the best part about the whole process is the smell, but then that's beaten into the proverbial cocked hat by the flavours.  Of course, it is completely necessary for you to taste a piece of each vegetable - after all, Chef Raymond Blanc insists upon it.  (I reckon he uses a chargrill pan a lot, from the sounds of things, then).

I left the veggies to cool on a plate for a couple of hours before cutting them into smaller pieces for inclusion in the couscous.  It's only a wonder there was anything left (particularly of the courgette - yum), after all that rigorous taste testing.

Once you've done that process, it's just a simple matter of slicing the ingredients and mixing up the combination.

I was intending on putting a dressing with the couscous, however, the olive oil I used when chargrilling the vegetables was obviously sufficient when combined with the vinegary salty capers and the juices from the cooked vegetables, so an additional dressing was superfluous.

I thank Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi for my success with couscous.  If it wasn't for their Green Couscous recipe, I wouldn't have twigged to the intensity of flavours that's required to jazz up what is a really quite dreary carbohydrate.  So, I thank you, you two!

WINTER COUSCOUS    (feeds 4)

Ingredients :

A courgette, sliced into thin strips
a red pepper, diced into 1-2cm squares 
a red onion, cut into eight wedges
1-2 tbsp olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
150-200g couscous
1 tsp Marigold reduced salt vegetable stock bouillon powder
150-200ml boiling water
8 or so cherry tomatoes, quartered
half a celery stick, de-ribbed and diced finely
two handfuls of watercress and rocket salad leaves, thick stems removed and chopped into manageable pieces
a tbsp of fresh parsley, chopped roughly
a tsp of fresh mint, chopped roughly
a tbsp of capers, chopped
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Method :

1.  Place the courgette and red pepper into a bowl and add the olive oil and seasoning (to taste).  Toss the vegetables until you are happy that everything is coated with oil.

2.  In the meantime, the chargrill pan can have been heating up.  If you don't have a chargrill pan, I suggest you just plain old grill the veggies.  Lay the first instalment of veggies onto the chargrill pan and leave them there until they are showing discernable stripes, then flip them over and grill the other side.  You are looking for their being softened, but not totally cooked through, i.e. retaining some crunch.

3.  Place the vegetables onto a plate to cool and continue cooking until you've done the lot.

4.  Place the onion into the bowl and, if necessary, add a little more oil.  Toss to coat and repeat the cooking process, adding the onions to the plate when done.

5.  Cover the plate with cling film and leave to cool.

6.  Place the couscous into a bowl and sprinkle the bouillon powder over.

7.  Add the boiling water (which should just appear at the same level as the top of the couscous), make sure the bouillon powder has been accepted by the water and cover the bowl with cling film.  Leave for 10 minutes, then uncover and fork through to loosen the grains.

8.  In the meantime, you can be preparing the remainder of the vegetables and slicing the chargrilled veggies into smaller pieces, for inclusion with the couscous.

9.  Once the couscous has cooled, add the remainder of the ingredients (i.e. all the vegetables) to the bowl, season to taste and fork lightly to distribute evenly.

10.  Serve with smoked mackerel fillets.


  1. Love the honesty. :) Imho, this is reminder that indeed, less is more. But you know what... I kinda like the food presentation.

  2. I've nothing to gain by not being honest about the food I blog about, Claire, and everything to gain by being honest. I'd hate one of my readers to try something and find it is, in fact, utterly abhorrent instead of being yummy and delicious. Of course, you have to allow for personal taste in everything, but if I like something - then usually, someone else is going to like it! :)


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