I am not the kind of person who views salad as “the healthy option”. A “healthy salad” in my mind conjures up images of sad leaves, deprived of dressing, topped with dry grilled protein of some description and perhaps a slice of beetroot or two. When I choose a salad, especially in Winter or Spring, it’s because I want something lighter than our seasonal stews and casseroles but still with an air of comfort and warmth, soothing the soul with interesting flavours and textures. Of course, a salad can still be a highly nutritional option; lots of vitamins and minerals whilst low in saturated fat and sugar, but I cannot, will not, compromise on taste. A salad at this time of year needs to be bold, flavourful, packed with delicious ingredients and, for me, must have some form of warm element to induce the highest level of gratification. In my opinion, there is no point to eating a salad if you end up ravenous ten minutes later. There is no way of getting away from it, there needs to be an element of carbohydrate; hot sourdough croutons, sautéed in bacon fat, warm and waxy new potatoes, bright chunks of sweet, roasted butternut squash, or dainty flecks of orzo pasta, I don’t mind, you had me at carbohydrate.
In this instance I needed a meal which would restore a feeling of well-being after a day spent suppressing a migraine. It needed to be quick to create and wouldn’t leave me feeling overbearingly full. Don’t get me wrong, I am not removed from that feeling, we’ve all been there. Having eyes bigger than my appetite and a disturbing stubbornness to finishing everything on my plate, despite portion size, I regularly fall into that trap. Nonetheless, last night I wanted a lighter version of comfort food.
Smoked mackerel, to me, epitomizes warming and childlike comfort. Something about the smoky and soft flesh, so easy and tender to eat yet packed with flavour means a quick and tasty dish is never far away.Whether it is served simply warmed, flaked on to brown bread, thickly buttered with a spritz of lemon and cracked black pepper, or whipped into cream cheese for a quick pâté, comfort and restoration is never far away.
My smoked mackerel salad took inspiration from a smoked mackerel pâté which a friend introduced me to. For the pâté, peppered smoked mackerel is flaked into bite size pieces and mixed into cream cheese along with freshly grated horseradish, a squeeze of lemon juice and a small dollop of Dijon mustard and seasoned with more pepper to taste. I like to mix the pâté until some of the mackerel is completely smooth and other pieces are still whole to give an interesting texture. Serve with hot brown toasts and a peppery rocket salad, glazed with a balsamic dressing. This is a great quick and easy lunch idea or fabulous as a starter.
For my recuperation I wanted to use this inspiration to cultivate a twist on another favourite of mine – potato salad. I’m not a mayonnaise fan but I relish the opportunity to explore different types of potato salad with French dressings or emulating our American friends using a creamy crème fraîche base. For this salad I decided on a whole grain mustard, crème fraîche dressing, blanketing warm new potatoes and peppery smoked mackerel, tossed with a variety of mixed leaves. The resulting dish was comforting, fresh, bursting with flavour and left me perfectly full. Ideal Friday night fodder alongside with a gin and tonic.
Warm Mackerel and New Potato Salad
4 fillets of peppered mackerel
350g – 400g new potatoes (depending on how hungry you are)
150ml crème fraîche
2 level tsp of whole grain mustard
2 tbsp lemon juice
a bag of mixed leaves
black pepper (to taste)
Halve the new potatoes and cook in boiling salted water for 10 minutes, or until tender.
Whilst the potatoes are cooking mix the crème fraîche with 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice and 1 teaspoon of the mustard, season with black pepper and taste. Add more of the lemon and mustard until you are happy with the balance and set to one side. Tear the mixed leaves into bite size pieces (you should only need a fork to eat this) on to two plates or bowls.
Once the potatoes are cooked, drain thoroughly and place back in pan. Off the heat, pour your dressing over the potatoes and stir to coat, the residual heat will thin down your dressing perfectly. Flake in the peppered mackerel and mix carefully. Spoon the creamy potato and mackerel mixture onto the lettuce, gentle toss, season with more black pepper, if desired, and eat immediately.
Mackerel is such a beautiful fish I couldn’t resist a picture here.
I used a combination of lamb’s lettuce, frisée, radiccio and baby green oak but feel free to use spinach, rocket, watercress or your whatever you have to hand.
Carefully folding the smoked mackerel into your creamy potato mixture will leave you with a delicately textured salad and is well worth the care.