The suicidal sprat

Torcross is a funny little place, wedged between a freshwater lake and nature reserve, and across the road, the sea. The road winds through the village, and you risk your life crossing it at a couple of blind spots.

Torcross sea wall


The pub and restaurant at Torcross have a seawater view from one window, and lakeside from the other. Bizarrely, you see the odd pair of swans bobbing along the waves on the shingle beach – presumably they've popped over from the lake. They've got more sense to try to walk across the road, and make it over like low flying aircraft. Duck! No, it's a swan.

On our first day on this Devon trip, we popped into Dartmouth, to buy toys. I bought some watercolour bits and pieces, and Tim came away with a fishing rod and rigs. And two folding chairs.

I was tackling some watercolour painting, very badly, when Tim banged on the window and told me to come and see. I scrambled up the steps over the sea wall to see masses of glittery little fishies washed up on the shore. Beached sprats.



They're hunted by the mackerel, and groups of them get driven towards the beach. Tim and I spent some time lifting them and putting them back into the sea, before realising they were then floating, perhaps killed by the impact of landing back into the water. I do wonder what the locals made of a middle aged couple desperately trying to save small fish. The other mackerel fishers on the beach kept on fishing.

A sinkful of mackerel

By then Tim had already caught a few mackerel. A basin full in fact.

Tim wanted to make a kind of portable fish supper. Not that the classic fish and chips isn't portable, in its wrapping of paper. (What a pity it's no longer newsprint.) So this is a kind of deconstructed fish and chips. Or inside out fish and chips.


The fish is mackerel. The potato element is a kind of pancake cum rosti.


It's a lonely business



1 large scrubbbed, unpeeled

2 fillets of mackerel, rolled in flour

A seaside sauce, of 2 tablespoons horseradish sauce, 1 tablespoon of tomato ketchup.

Squeeze out the moisture

Grate the potato and squeeze the moisture out in a tea towel. Get a pan hot, with a little olive oil, lay the potato in the pan, thinly spread, forming a kind of pancake. Season. When it's holding together, and slightly coloured, turn it over and cook the other side.


Mackerel fillets

Grab a bottle

Put to one side, and sear the fish quickly in a hot pan. Roll the seared mackerel fillets in the rosti pancake, and fry again in a little butter and oil, and cook to become crispy. Cut in half, grab a bottle of white wine and sit in the sea wall. Eat dipped into the seaside sauce.

Deconstructed fish n chips



Scary looking fish in scary sauce. Ling in a spring nettle sauce.

Well, looks aren't everything.

As far as fish go, Ling isn’t much of a looker. A member of the cod family, it has a massive head and long, tapered body, with marbled brown and white skin markings and a silver underside. If this fish was on a double date with its cousin the cod, it would be the gormless one with the too short trousers, and teeth braces. A kind of Ugly Betty of the sea. Or Plug, from the Beano (more my era). But the meat is lovely – large meaty flakes, and sweet flavour.

Ling on the fish counter.

Ling is a fish at risk from over fishing, so do try to find certified sustainable sources. Pollack or coley is a sustainable alternative. This ling came from a fishmonger in Devon, who’s joined HFW’s ‘Fish fight.’ The fishmonger said this is quite a small ling, they can be enormous – up to 2 meters long.

Stinging nettles are the highest plant source of iron, and are an excellent source of vitamins, minerals and protein. The nettles’ stinging ability disappears when the nettles are cooked.

My childhood horror - stinging nettles.

Blanched nettles.


2 thick fillets of ling, about 200g each

For the sauce:

1 large tomato

1 garlic clove, crushed

1 tablespoon of capers

1 onion

A couple of tablespoons of olive oil

50g butter

A handful (a gloved handful!) of nettles

Skin and pin bone the fish. Season the ling fillets with salt and pepper.

Blanch the nettles for 40 seconds, by pouring boiling water over them in a pan. Combine the drained nettles, garlic, onions, capers in a hand blender jug and whizz into a kind of nettle pesto. Take out and reserve a couple of tablespoons. Add the tomatoes and olive oil and whisk by hand to amalgamate the sauce, and simmer for 10 minutes.

In the meantime, heat the oil and butter in a non-stick frying pan over a medium-high heat and add the ling fillets. Cook for three to four minutes then turn the fillets and fry for a couple of minutes until the fish is just cooked through. To serve, place the sauce onto a plate, place the fish on top and spoon over some of the reserved nettle ‘pesto’. Serve with some proper bread.

Ling in spring nettle sauce.

Big meaty flakes of fish.

Dabs steamed in Wild Garlic

Dabs are one of the fish species that currently is often chucked back into the sea by trawlers – dead, as there’s not a lot of demand for it. A campaign to increase it’s popularity seems to be working, and I found these today in a local fishmongers. They were £1.90 for the two. They’re a flat fish, similar to lemon sole. Well worth trying. This recipe is very frugal, using the cheap dabs, and the free wild garlic. Only the Riverford double cream I used could be seen as a luxury – but with the small amount needed, it’s a good choice.

For a starter for two people

2 dabs
4 garlic leaves for wrapping the fish
A bunch of parsley, finely chopped
2 tablespoons double cream
1 shallot
1 medium tomato, skin removed (I used Isle of Wight)
Olive oil
Half a glass of dry white wine
Half a red onion

Fillet the dabs to get both the bigger top fillet and the thinner lower one. Ask your fishmonger to do it if you’re not sure.

Lay out some parchment paper, about 20 inches. Lay 5 leaves of wild garlic, each overlapping the other slightly, at the beginning of the parchment. Lay the fish in the opposite direction. Stack the four fillets with salt and pepper and some blobs of butter between. Use the parchment to help you roll the fish and garlic leaves into a ballotine. Twist the end like a Christmas cracker, or tie with some string.

Put aside and make the sauce.

The sauce

Wash the bones in cold water to remove any blood. Soften the shallots in a little olive oil and butter over a low heat. Add the fish bones to the mixture. Add the tomato and continue to heat. Cook together to continue to amalgamate for a few minutes.

Add a half glass of dry white wine and cook off the alcohol. Add half a glass of water (4 oz approx). Reduce the heat and simmer for 15 – 20 minutes.

While this happening, steam the fish. Steam the fish ballotines in a wooden Chinese steamer, or whatever steaming method you have to hand. 15 minutes or so.

Back to the sauce. While the fish is steaming, pass the sauce through a sieve.

Either wash the pan out, or grab a new pan. Simmer the stock/sauce down, and add juice of 1/4 lemon. Season with black pepper and salt.

Drop in the cream, increase the heat a little, check seas0ning, drop in a knob of butter, mix in, then with the heat off, stir in the parsley.

In the meantime, slowly caramelise a couple of slices of red onion for a garnish.

To serve. Unwrap the fish and cut into two cylindrical shapes. Pour around the sauce and garnish with a few pieces of caramelised red onions.


Frugal dab fish. iphone pic by Linda


Dab in wild garlic. iphone pic by Linda