Mark Hix recipes: There's more to gooseberries than the fools and crumbles they usually end up in

Like rhubarb, gooseberries can conjure up childhood memories of rather dreary school lunches.

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Sour fruits typically get turned into a crumble or such like, usually with heaps of sugar, sometimes with not enough. But gooseberries have been part of our summer cuisine for many centuries (and were a staple of it before we imported so much of our fruit) and there are lots of other interesting uses for them, both sweet and savoury.

You can use regular green gooseberries and/or red dessert varieties in these recipes. Bear in mind that the latter are sweeter, so require less sugar.

Crispy mackerel and pickled gooseberry salad

Serves 4

Gooseberry with oily fish is a classic taste combination, and lightly pickling the fruit like this works really well. You could also use gooseberries prepared in this way to serve with chesse.

Ingredients

For the pickled gooseberries

16 gooseberries, halved

4-5tbsp cider vinegar

3tsp caster sugar

 

For the dressing

1½tbsp of the vinegar from the gooseberries

2tsp Tewkesbury mustard

2tbsp rapeseed oil

2tbsp vegetable or corn oil

 

Vegetable or corn oil for deep frying

4 medium-sized mackerel fillets

100-150g gluten-free self-raising flour

100ml milk

A few handfuls of small, tasty salad and herb leaves

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

 

To pickle the goosberries, stir the sugar into the vinegar until dissolved, then add the fruit, cover, and leave for at least two hours – or overnight for more intense flavour – in a non-reactive container.

Whisk all of the ingredients together for the dressing and season to taste.

Preheat about 8cm of oil to 160-180C in a large, thick-bottomed saucepan or deep-fat fryer. Cut the mackerel into roughly 2cm wide strips. Season them, then pass through the flour, shaking off any excess. Next pass them through the milk, and then again through the flour. Deep-fry for 2-4 minutes, turning the fish with a slotted spoon as it cooks, until crisp and golden. Remove from the oil and drain on some kitchen paper.

Arrange the salad and herb leaves on serving plates with the crispy mackerel and gooseberry pickle, and spoon the dressing over.

Gooseberry meringue pie

Serves 6-8

A great seasonal alternative to lemon meringue, you can make one large pie or use the same method and make a number of individual servings for entertaining or for lunch boxes.

Ingredients

For the pastry

60g unsalted butter

30g caster sugar

1 small egg, beaten

125g plain flour

Flour for dusting

 

For the filling

250g gooseberries

250g granulated sugar

Cornflour, to thicken

For the topping

2 egg whites

60g caster sugar

First make the pastry. Using a food processor, mixer or by hand, cream the butter and sugar together until smooth. Slowly add the beaten egg, scraping the sides of the bowl every so often if you are using a mixer, until it is all mixed well, then slowly fold in the flour. Mould the dough into a ball for rolling.

Lightly grease an 18-20cm wide, 3cm deep, straight-sided flan ring with a removable bottom (alternatively, use a buttered, bottomless flan ring on a buttered tray). Roll out the pastry, on a flour-dusted table, until it's about 3mm thick, then lay it into the flan ring. The best way to do this is to roll the pastry around the rolling pin, then unroll it over the flan ring and ease the pastry into the ring with your hands.

Press the pastry firmly into the corners of the flan ring and patch up any holes by pinching together, or by patching in some of the excess pastry. This particular pastry is quite forgiving and a bit of patchwork won't be noticeable once it's been cooked.

Roll the rolling pin across the top of the flan ring to trim off the excess pastry, then neaten up the edges by going round and pinching them with your thumb and forefinger. Leave to rest in a fridge for 20-30 minutes.

Meanwhile make the filling: put the gooseberries with the sugar in a heavy-based saucepan, and cook on a high heat for 5-6 minutes or until the gooseberries soften. Transfer to a sieve over a bowl to catch the juice. Return the juice to the pan, mix some cornflour in a little water and stir enough into the juice to thicken it. Simmer gently for a minute then stir the gooseberries back in and remove from the heat.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas mark 5. Place a large disc of greaseproof paper or foil over the pastry and fill the flan ring with baking beans.

Bake the pastry for 25 minutes, or until lightly browned, then remove from the oven and leave to cool a little. Reduce the oven to 150°C/Gas mark 3.

Remove the greaseproof paper and baking beans and spoon in the filling. If there is too much, save to have as lemon curd on toast. Bake for 10-15 minutes until just set, then remove from the oven and increase the temperature to 220°C/Gas mark 7.

Clean a stainless-steel mixing bowl and whisk (preferably electric) with boiling water and dry with a clean cloth to remove any trace of grease. Whisk the egg whites until stiff then add the sugar and continue whisking until they are stiff and shiny. Spoon the mixture on to the filling and return to the oven for about 3-5 minutes until lightly browned. Allow to cool and eat at room temperature within 24 hours.

Roast duck with gooseberries and cider brandy

Serves 4

As with oily fish, the fattiness of duck is nicely counteracted and balanced by the sharpness and acidity of gooseberries. You can make this dish with either whole roasted ducks or you could buy just breasts; I prefer a whole bird as you can then convert the carcass into a delicious broth.

You can start this dish the day before by preparing the duck, making the sauce and slow cooking the legs, so all you need to do on the day is roast the breasts and crisp up the legs.

Ingredients

2 whole oven-ready ducks

A couple sprigs of thyme

1 bay leaf

5 juniper berries

20-30 gooseberries

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

100ml Somerset cider brandy

 

For the sauce

1 small onion, peeled and roughly chopped

The bones from the duck

2 tsp plain flour

1/2 tsp tomato purée

700-800ml chicken or beef stock (a good cube will do)

Remove the legs from the ducks with > a heavy chopping knife, by pulling the leg away from the carcass and cutting until you get to the joint, when you can just pull the leg right back and cut through the where it joins. Chop off the knuckle and set aside.

With the point of the knife remove the thigh bone by cutting either side of it on the flesh side, then pulling away the flesh and carefully cutting through the joint. Put the thigh bone to one side then pull the meat down where the knuckle was cut off and arrange the legs in a tight-fitting, heavy-based, oven-proof saucepan, folding the thigh part tidily so they fit snugly in the pan.

Take the rest of the carcass with the breasts attached and with a heavy knife cut out the backbone, leaving just the crown with the breasts on. Chop the wings off at the first joint and put to one side with the other bones. Remove all of the fat and skin from the backbone and put it in the pan with the legs. Chop all of the bones through a few times with a heavy knife or cleaver, and put them in a heavy frying pan with the onions. Fry on a medium heat, turning as they are cooking for 5 minutes or so until lightly browned. Stir in the flour and tomato purée then gradually add the stock. Bring to the boil, transfer to a saucepan and simmer very gently for 30-40 minutes, then strain through a fine meshed sieve.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 160°C/Gas mark 3. Season the duck legs and add the thyme, bay leaf and juniper. Cover the pan and cook for about 1.5 hours in the oven.

To serve, preheat the oven to 220º/Gas mark 7. Season the ducks and place in a roasting tray. Remove the legs from the fat, place in a tray with the duck and roast for about 25- 30 minutes, basting as they are cooking and keeping them pink. If the legs aren't crisp, remove the breasts and leave the legs in.

Meanwhile bring the sauce to the boil, add the gooseberries and simmer for a couple of minutes. Once the ducks are cooked, drain off the fat and add it to the fat the legs were cooked in – store in the fridge to use for roast potatoes another time. Put the roasting tray on the stove on a medium heat and pour over the cider brandy. If it doesn't flame straight away just carefully put a match to it and it will ignite.

To serve, carefully remove the breasts from the bone with a sharp knife and slice each breast into 8-10 pieces. Arrange on one large or several individual serving plates with the crisp legs, then pour the sauce over or serve separately.

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