75. A Recipe for Smoked Mackerel on Cabbage

for Martock, and everyone I knew there (and at Yeovil Grammar School – though how I rejoice that institution has long been totally dismantled!)

Yes, fish are glittering & slippery
always leave me a little unsure
but here my imperfect grasp is remedied
through already processed product which
cook themselves up minimally problematically
& remind me always of the mackerel men
selling the catch off the backs of lorries
straight up from West Bay1
the nearest bit of coast due South to Martock
so holidays there meant a caravan by West Bay’s shingle2
& this isn’t how anyone ever ate in Martock anyway
grilled or fried with potatoes & peas or boiled cabbage
which you don’t need me to tell you how to make
but this dish much more full of divine & inflowing splendour

Cooking is what cooking is
and what food is has everything
to do with the infilling of imaginary’s belly3
as pragmatic a reason as possible please
so make whatever approximation you would like
it’ll be true as anything else: 4 or so smoked mackerel fillets
                                – peppered is great
                                an onion (or half)
                                a carrot (or half)
                                some mushrooms
                                white cabbage
                                              a fair amount
                                              all split into shards
                                (or you can veer from
                                the type & bastard mix
                                always good – nice
                                pointed spring cabbage yes
                                and some greens
                                                even kale
                                                not any savoy
                                – misguided & a fault I find)4
                                a little marrow
                                                or courgette5
                                a pepper green & shiny
                                maybe some peas
                                and some things lighter also
                                                        watercress
                                                        broccoli sprouts
                                                        or chard
                                                        even lettuce
                                plus added to all these
                                                        ground pepper
                                maybe some chillies
                                or your favourite chilli sauce
                                important the fish sauce of Vietnam
                                & a little soy a must

Let us be thankful for that which is
& whatever congeries of vegetables have come through
reverberating endlessly
sliced finely to hand
                      – except those you’ll use softly
                        as a bed above the rest
then fry up the onions, carrots
                                & the chillies
                                (if you like
& add in the cut up vegetables
all within a large & heavy pan
let them begin to work & season now
w/ a bit of pepper & a little soy & added too
a useful splash of fishy sauce
then cover for a little
say 10 minutes or more
& like a melting glacier rich juices begin to form beneath
drop on your soft bed of more tender leaves or shoots
& add the mackerel after them
                              then cover again
you can leave it be on a lower heat
for half an hour or less – no
                              fashionably wilted greens but
a thick & mixed up British mud of vegetable & liquor
serve this lovely stodginess with rice
                                       – it’s nice!
                                       (still we are children in some kind

So here it is like the debris of a former world
recast as something newer, dark & nutritious
food like compost to nourish up your belly
leaving you heavy but full of fertile vigour

[Though eating mackerel reminds me somehow of childhood, we actually rarely ate them – I think my mother, East London middle-class, was a little uneasy about fish sold off of lorries on the village street. But, she’d approve the nourishment & all the vegetables. The recipe was suggested to me again by Ginie (& it’s like a Chinese hotpot dish6), but ending up usually played out this way (depending on what material there is). It is a matter of inhabiting, in the food, and in the writing, what actually you do inhabit, and inhabiting it fully, even down to the dark rich lower depths that are what we spring from & must return to. Not Dorset shingle, but Somerset mud. Not purified origins, but that appalling multitextual sea we drift on.]

 

 

1 now chichi incomer artisanal Dorset – Café Surf at last

 

 

2 the alternative was Burnham mud

 

 

3 thus making it constant & real. And, yes, Keston, we are what we ate – are you not a materialist, then?

 

 

4 steam it & it’s delicious – serve buttered (w/ a little nutmeg & lemon juice also, plus pepper)

 

 

5 a mock-heroic marrow – either adds a little added substance like sweet stodginess

 

 

6 hmm – might work well with glass noodles included? – & preserved radish, yes

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