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How to Start Living Again via Crispy Fish Skin with Cucumber and Elderflower Jam

I wasn't really cooking, I'd lost faith in baking (reinforced by a couple of cake failures) and there seemed to be no hope. It would be a bit of a stretch to say that this recipe saved me, but it did reinvigorate something in me.

Sometimes, it's only in retrospect that we realise what is happening to us. With the clarity offered by my hindsight goggles, I see now that I had spent about two months attempting to navigate my way through a fog of biscuit crumbs before resigning and lying amongst the chocolate digestive detritus. I wasn't really cooking, I'd lost faith in baking (reinforced by a couple of cake failures) and there seemed to be no hope. It would be a bit of a stretch to say that this recipe saved me, but it did reinvigorate something in me. Through its vibrancy it opened up some sort of drive within me, and I rediscovered my omega 3 of purpose.

The recipe is inspired by one of my favourites, Nigel Slater, but I have changed/added a couple of elements. For some reason, I have begun to associate determination with crispy fish skin, so I started off by dipping my mackerel fillets in seasoned flour. Butter beans were simmering in a pan, to which I added fenugreek, salt and pepper. I could forget about them for the moment for they would yield under my fork soon enough.

Bacon fried in a griddle pan before being removed and replaced by pieces of chopped up aubergine, tossed every so often until their countenance bared a pleasing char. The heat was moderately high, so that they didn't just stagnate and go soggy, like I was. A little dash of olive oil and some chopped garlic went in.

Meanwhile, some oil went into another pan on a moderately high heat. The mackerel went in skin side down for a couple of minutes whilst I sprinkled over some chopped rosemary, seasoning and a few capers. After a flip over (a flip that was filled with conviction, may I add) I reached for the stuff that would bring it all together. Some time ago I had got the idea to make cucumber and elderflower jam, in my head the combination worked. After picking elderflowers and making a syrup from them, cooking down the cucumbers and gradually adding the syrup until they were simmering in a floral bath, I poured my cucumber and elderflower jam into jars. I had enjoyed making it, but I had no idea what to do with it - I wasn't sure it would work in a cake, or on toast for that matter, but there was some hope in dinner.

Thus, a couple of spoonfuls were dolloped into the pan along with the mackerel with a dash of white wine vinegar. I watched as it bubbled with vigour, and inspired by this, I began to mash my beans until it took on an amorphous aspect. I removed the fish from the pan and added a bit of water to the pan and adjusted and reduced till it was the right consistency. The bacon from earlier was chopped up and introduced to the aubergine via a few final tosses.

This dish was what I needed - the crispy skin, the sweet, piquant sauce that cut through the oiliness of the mackerel, the charred aubergine's smokiness accentuated by the bacon, the creamy bean mash that provided a subtly flavoured foundation for this dialogue upon my palate. Perhaps it was the vibrancy of the dish, the feeling of purpose invoked by the omega 3, or the fact that I had finally found a use for the cucumber and elderflower jam that was lying around, but it injected some crispiness into my life, a floral sweetness that gave me hope - hope to start cooking again, to start living again.

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