Saturday, 6 August 2011

Salad of Shaved Baby Fennel, Apple and Smoked Mackerel. And my Norwegian Ancestry

Smoked mackerel is one of those love-it-or-hate-it foods, and I fall happily into Camp Love It. My fish-hating children and husband, the philistines they are, make gagging noises and organise protest marches when they see a packet of smoked mackerel fillets in the fridge. I am flummoxed by their attitude.

Salad of Shaved Baby Fennel, Apple and Smoked Mackerel
Salad of Shaved Baby Fennel, Apple and Smoked Mackerel

I love all kinds of fish: smoked, pickled, cured and oily (especially snoek and anchovies) and I reckon this craving has something to do with my Norwegian ancestry.

My Norwegian grandmother Agathe Torstena Olsen
My Norwegian great-grandmother, Agathe Torstena Olsen, known as Bestemor

I'm a quarter Norwegian, as you might gather from the rather Nordic picture of me as a nine-year-old (below). My grandmother Cecilie Kröger Jacobsen was born in 1911 in Durban, South Africa, and her immigrant parents were both born in Norway.

My great grandfather Bernt Jacobsen came from Arendal and his wife Agathe Olsen from Bergen. Both Bernt and Agathe were dead by the time I was born, and I know very little about them.

One lovely piece of family lore has stuck in my mind, though. Agathe ('Bestemor') used to say that when she was a little girl and saw the great Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg on the streets of Bergen, she always dropped him a curtsey. I don't know whether this is true, and - like all wonderful old family legends - it doesn't really matter if it isn't. The very idea that Bestemor was born in the same town as Grieg tickles me pink.

I've had Norway in my thoughts recently, after the devastasting massacre of so many young people on Utøya island.

My family has virtually no connection at all to Norway these days - though my mum, I think, is still in touch with some distant relatives - but my heart felt curiously broken to hear this news. This tenuous ancestral connection has ignited an interest in Norway and I hope to spend some time in the next few weeks exploring Norwegian food.

My Norwegian grandmother Agathe Torstena Olsen
Me, aged nine, dressed up in Norwegian traditional costume.
Anyway, back to the salad. I picked up some beautiful baby fennel at my local Woolies in Hout Bay, and it was just too young, fresh and snappy to cook. I shaved it, using a mandolin, and combined it with sweet thin slices of apple, flakes of smoked mackerel, and - for a bit of crunch and vim - a crisp topping of croutons dusted with chilli powder.

I used apple-cider vinegar to make the dressing, but you can use any good white-wine vinegar.

Salad of Shaved Baby Fennel, Apple and Smoked Mackerel

For the dressing
3 T (45 ml) apple cider vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
½ cup (125 ml) good olive oil
1 tsp (5 ml) Dijon mustard
½ tsp (2.5 ml) white granulated sugar
salt and milled black pepper

For the salad:
6 young, crisp fennel bulbs
a lemon
4 small, crunchy apples (I used Golden Delicious)
2 large fillets of smoked mackerel

For the chilli croutons:
4 slices white bread, crusts removed
4 T (60 ml) vegetable oil
a pinch of chilli powder (or more, to taste)

First make the dressing. Whisk all the ingredients together in a small bowl and set aside.

Trim the fennel bulbs and cut them in very fine slices lengthways, using a mandolin or sharp knife. Set aside.

Fill a large bowl with cold water and add the juice of half a lemon. Peel the apples using a potato peeler (or this excellent device) and drop them immediately into the lemony water. When all the apples are peeled, use a corer to remove the cores and stalks. Cut the apples horizontally into very fine slices, and put them back into the bowl of acidulated water (this will prevent them from going brown).

Remove any fine bones from the mackerel and pull it into large flakes.

Just before you assemble the salad, make the chilli croutons. Heat the vegetable oil in a small pan. Tear the bread into little tatters and fry in the hot oil, tossing once or twice, until they are a rich golden brown. Drain on a piece of kitchen paper and sprinkle with chilli powder and a little salt.

To serve, arrange the fennel, apple and mackerel on a platter, or on individual plates. Drizzle the dressing over  the salad, and top with the croutons. Serve immediately.

Serves 6

Salad of Shaved Baby Fennel, Apple and Smoked Mackerel

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Marisa said...

What a perfectly presented little salad and a lovely slice of ancestry to go with it. I know precious little about Scandinavian cuisine, so look forward to following your exploration thereof.

Nina Timm said...

The light, the color and all the beautiful textures on that plate is just too beautiful. You have such a wonderful eye for plating Jane!!

Kit said...

I love smoked mackerel too, though have no Norwegian, or even Scandinavian, blood in my veins and still have a problem with anchovies and pickled herring!
I love the combination with fennel - would counteract the richness of the fish perfectly, yum.

Jane-Anne said...

Thank you my blogger friends for your lovely comments.

Sam said...

I do love the sound of this salad, the crunchy spicy bits, the crispy fennel and the sweet apple with the fish. Fabulous!

Super Mom Blog said...

I am new to your blog and love what I see! This recipe looks and sounds delicious - I am always on the hunt for new ideas & it sounds perfect for spring, which hopefully around the corner!

Anonymous said...

you looked like me at that age but blond, I had something reddish hair, if the you weren´t blond it would be my photo hahaha but yeah I have some scandinavian heritage but also russian and german