All this fun with chilli-bean paste had to end some time. It's regular and welcome appearance in my fridge, pan and mouth was making me forget the amazing Szechuan food that existed without the wondrous paste. It was time for a go at something else.
This soup with pickled mustard greens and fish looked just the ticket as I had some super fresh mackerel from a trip to Billingsgate in the freezer. I thought an oily and meaty fish would stand up well for itself in a hot and sour soup filled with pickled vegetables.
wonderful pickled mustard greens
Here is a recipe modified from FD.
- one mackerel per person
- one pack pickled mustard greens (300g)
- 1l+ stock
- pickled chillies (if you have no Szechuan ones use Turkish)
- Shaoxing wine, ginger, garlic
- bunch spring onions
Firstly fillet the fish and pour a little salt and Shaoxing wine over the fillets.
Next you need a stock. If you have any fish stock to hand use (or maybe a light chicken one, just?), otherwise make a quick stock with the spines and heads of the fish, some appropriate spices and a pinch of veg stock. I boiled the bones (after smashing open the heads) with Szechuan pepper, a couple of dried chillies, fennel seeds, star anise, false cardamom and a scant handful of dried oyster and porcini mushrooms for some depth. I also added a small amount of Gentleman's Relish, containing as it does mainly anchovy and salt, this is a good short-cut when bolstering a fish stock. Strain the stock well - lots of small black particles will have exited the fish heads and entered the liquid. My Le Creuset was a warlock's crock-pot of grey sediment and unidentifiable bits of mackerel matter by this point: muslin recommended.
false cardamom - amomum subulatum
Fry the garlic, chilli and pickled chillies, all cut fine. The yellow-green Turkish chillies that you get with kebabs worked great as they are a bit sour and suitably tangfastic. I asked Fuchsia Dunlop on her blog about the right pickled chillies to use and she was kind enough to reply. The ones in my previous post are a hot mountain chilli. What is needed here is the milder, sour ones - hence me using the Turkish option. I don't know what the authentic version of this soup tastes like and I don't think it matters hugely, but this substitution hits the right notes in my opinion.
Add the strained stock and mustard greens (cut ragged). Add the chopped spring onions. Bring everything to a simmer and leave for five minutes to bring things to a head.
Gently introduce the fish pieces and poach for a few minutes until cooked. FD suggests thickening but I loved the soup thin and broth-like. She also offers an option for chilli lovers of pouring on a layer of hot oil and Szechuan pepper. Now normally I'd be all over that, but the beauty, to me, of this soup lies in its soothing qualities. It is a balm, a tonic, and the pickled chillies give a gentle and suggestive heat that needs no augmentation. I saw somewhere the taste of the false cardamom described as 'antiseptic'. That's apt - initially I was worried by its strident flavour but the menthol notes of the pod assimilated well and added to the overall taste pretty well. You end up with a soothing savoury broth, the sourness of the pickled vegetables, some welcome squeak from the mustard greens and then the dense mackerel, surprisingly delicate in its liquid matrix. It tastes downright healthy this soup in fact.
note the beautiful, miso-like, fine particle cloud of the soup
I suggest eating this with a bowl of brown rice at your elbow.