Passage to Dartmouth

Dartmouth, Devon, 30 May, 2003 A gorgeous day yesterday and school half term to boot! So we went out to sea, down the coast to Dartmouth, tied up by the quay and had a simple lunch at Alf Resco's (the best place in town for all-day breakfasts). On our way across the Bay, we had dodged areas thick with buoys marking crab and lobster pots, for indeed we are fortunate that this stretch of the coast yields sensational crustacea. So while in Dartmouth, we purchased a tub of freshly picked local crab — well, two tubs actually, one of white, the other dark meat (more of that later), packed in a bag of ice to go into our picnic cooler for the journey back.
We explored the coast on the return passage, stopped in Torquay for a Langage Farm ice cream by the waterfront, and poked into the Teign estuary. On approaching Exmouth, the sea was like glass, so we slowed down to a pootle and Kim threw out the mackerel line (hand line with six hooks, each with just a brightly coloured feather to attract the fish). Almost immediately she felt a bite and wound the line in: as it got closer to the boat there was that shimmer of silver under the water that is always exciting to see, two shimmers in fact for there were two beautiful fat fish attached to that line. We must have been in a shoal, for as quickly as Kim tossed over that hand line, she pulled in one after another (I meanwhile was fishing with a fancy bass rod and reel and didn't so much as get a nibble!). After no more than a quarter of an hour or so, Kim's bucket was full of ten glistening, beautiful mackerels.
Now here's the point. I never thought the plural of mackerel would be anything other than mackerel. But when you have a bucket full that you have just pulled in with a handline, one by one (or sometimes two by two), then it definitely feels, even sounds right to say ten mackerels.
Mackerel or mackerels, no matter: when this fresh, there is no fish finer in the world to eat. But like Ohio sweetcorn, which is best when eaten within hours of being picked (before the sugars turn to starch), to be really sensational mackerel must be eaten within minutes or mere hours of coming out from the sea. Even a day old and the flavour lacks the delicacy, yes, even the elegance of a really fresh mackerel (which when consumed immediately is better even than sea bass).
So on returning home, this is what we did. Kim cleaned the mackerel (ready to be cooked and no longer 'mackerels') while I prepared a charcoal fire. Meanwhile, I made the simplest of first courses, spaghettini with crab, garlic and chilli. In a wok, I added olive oil and sauteed two sliced cloves of garlic, a finely chopped chilli, the coarsely chopped stems of a bunch of cilantro, then added a glass of Bianco di Custoza, juice from a lemon, and allowed it all to simmer lightly. By the time the pot of water was boiling for the pasta (Carlo Latini's sensational Senatore Cappelli), I added the brown crab meat to the sauce and forked it gently to amalgamate and become a brown emulsion richly fragrant of the sea. Cooked the spaghettini very al dente, drained, added to the wok, and tossed, then served immediately in bowls with the white crab meat on top garnished with more coarsely chopped cilantro.
After this simple primo piatto, we grilled the mackerel for no more than two minutes a side over hot charcoal, and devoured them immediately. Even Bella, who is fussy about fish, said it was the best she had ever eaten.
I hope the weather is glorious wherever you are and that you are finding a moment to enjoy it while it lasts!

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