I will eat pretty much anything if you stick it in an Asian-spiced pickle marinade. Pickles are an essential part of most Asian meals; my mother would always make a quick pickle of cucumber, onion, soy sauce and vinegar for my Malaysian father when he made one of his rare home visits. I could empty the whole bowl twice before she’d finished cooking the rest of the meal.
The basis for this plate is a bowl of quick pickled vegetables, made into a salad with rice noodles, and used to cut through the rich oiliness of grilled mackerel with its crispy skin. You could use all sorts of veg for this; I had carrots, radishes, onions and pak choi in the fridge, so that’s what I used, but you could use turnip, cucumber, mooli (daikon), courgettes. Basically, any crunchy stuff is good. I would usually also add lots of fresh herbs – mint, coriander, basil – but alas, there were none in the fridge so I did without. More good things to add would be toasted sesame seeds, chopped roasted peanuts and omelette strips.
Quick pickled vegetables with noodles and grilled mackerel
For the pickled vegetables:
- 2 carrots, peeled and julienned
- 8 radishes, thinly sliced
- 1/2 onion, thinly sliced
- 2 heads of pak choi, stems shredded (save the top leaves)
- inch of fresh ginger, julienned
- 1-2 red chillies, thinly sliced (more or less, depending on how hot your chillies are and how hot you like it)
Prepare all the veg and place in a large bowl.
For the dressing:
- 2 tbsps rice vinegar
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- Juice of 1 lime
- 1 tbsp fish sauce
Stir together until salt and sugar are dissolved. Stick your finger in and taste it, then adjust to your own taste. When you’re happy, pour it over the veg and turn them over with your hands to make sure all are coated. Cover and leave in the fridge for at least an hour.
You can make up a larger batch of the veg and keep them in the fridge for a week or so for instant side dishes, salads and banh mi.
For the salad:
- 100g vermicelli-style rice noodles
- reserved pak choi leaves
- roasted sesame oil (optional)
Put the noodles and leaves into a saucepan and pour over boiling water to cover. Leave for 3 mins, then bring to the boil and immediately drain. Pour over a little sesame oil and turn over to mix. Tip into the bowl of pickled vegetables and turn them all over with your hands to mix thoroughly. Leave to stand for at least five minutes to let the noodles soak up some of the dressing.
For the mackerel:
- 4 fillets of fresh or cold smoked mackerel
Heat the grill up as hot as it will go. Place the mackerel fillets flesh side-up in a foil-lined tray and grill for five mins, then turn over, slash the skins, and grill for another five mins till the skin is crispy and blistered.
To serve, scoop the noodle salad out of its dressing (it will have made quite a lot of extra liquid) and divide between two plates, then place two fillets on top of each. (If you’re planning to eat with chopsticks, you may prefer to break the fish up a little – but keep the crispy skin on top so it doesn’t go soggy in the salad!)