Date Stuffed Mackerel | Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons

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The last time I went to the Bullring Indoor Market was probably circa 1993. My nan used to love shopping there for fish, meat and huge bags of pork scratchings. I can remember taking the escalator down into the busy, dark and pungent market, feeling a little overwhelmed by bellowing traders and by how much there was to see.

The redevelopment of the Bullring area means it’s all very different to how I remember it as a child.



I’ll be honest, compared to the ultra sterile conditions of a supermarket that I’ve become accustomed to, the reality of a busy working market was a little disconcerting at first. But the range of fish on offer was fantastic. I was after mackerel.



Scanning my many, many cookbooks (138 at my last count) I suddenly realised I had two copies of Diana Henry’s Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons!! One paperback, one hardback. I can just picture myself in the shop now, analysing the cover, thinking ‘I’m sure I don’t already have that one’ – oops!


With two copies, I thought it was probably about time I cooked from them!

The mackerel would be used to make Date Stuffed Mackerel with Spicy Broth and Couscous.  A Moroccan dish, Diana Henry describes it as ‘fantastically exotic – deep, dark and spicy’.


Although I’m familiar with the sweet within savoury concept, I’m not always a fan. I can’t BEAR sultanas in the retro classic coronation chicken. So I was apprehensive at the list of stuffing ingredients including a large amount of dates,  almonds and mint.  However, I have never cooked a Diana Henry recipe and been disappointed, so I gave it a go.

I wasn’t expecting to be squeamish about handling the fish, but I was a little! I realised that I’d never actually held a whole fish before, or eaten one for that matter. And there was something about him (I’m presuming it was a ‘he’, I mean how do tell with a fish?) looking up at me, as I rinsed him under the running tap, that put me off a bit.

Stuffed and rubbed with olive oil, ginger and cinnamon, they went into the oven.


They came out looking glorious.  Crisp skin, moist flesh and they smelt AMAZING.


Served with couscous, and ladles of spicy broth: it tasted very exotic, and unlike anything that I’d tried before. Sat eating this outdoors in the sunshine, we were transported. It felt as if we were eating on holiday, in a little local restaurant somewhere off the beaten track. It was delicious.

The filling was very sweet and sticky, but I loved it! It worked superbly with the oily mackerel. Maybe I should stop picking the sultanas out of my coronation chicken from now on.


I don’t really need two copies of this book! So for a chance to win the paperback copy, all you need to do is follow me on twitter @letseatfirst and look out for the competition details.

The winner will be chosen at random on the 30th April 2015, and notified directly on twitter. Good luck!



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