Updated: Dec 14, 2020
by Nigella Lawson from Cook, Eat, Repeat (Chatto & Windus / Penguin)
I am so grateful to the political journalist Ash Sarkar for this new love in my
life. I have to say I had never heard of it before I saw a tweet of hers in April
2019, which read:
Nostalgia in a dish: cooked fish fingers, mashed with onion, fresh ginger, and green chilli that’s all fried in mustard oil, stirred through with a bit of English mustard and finished with lemon and coriander. Bird’s Eye bhorta is to me what a tea-dipped madeleine was to Proust.
The pink-pickled onions which I bring to the party, are not mandatory, but an addition I would be unwilling to do without. However, for all that they’re quick, they’re not instant. You can simply steep the onions in red wine vinegar (not the expensive kind) a couple of hours ahead, but longer is better.
I plan to do this 6 hours ahead, or the day before, although I try anyway to keep a rolling stock of them in the house.
SERVES 2, with essential leftovers
FOR THE PINK-PICKLED ONIONS
1/2 red onion
Red wine vinegar or lime juice to cover
FOR THE BHORTA
2 regular onions (approx. 300g)
2 red chillies
2 fat cloves of garlic
1 x 15ml tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger (approx. 50g chunk)
12 fish fingers
3 x 15ml tablespoons cold-pressed rapeseed or vegetable oil
2 x 15ml tablespoons English mustard (from a jar)
2 teaspoons sea salt flakes (or 1 teaspoon fine sea salt)
125g young spinach
3 x 15ml tablespoons roughly chopped coriander, plus more to serve
1. Make your pink-pickled onions as far in advance as you can: at least 2 hours, and up to 24. Cut your red onion half – or use a whole onion if you prefer, as you will easily find yourself adding them to much else – into fine half-moons. Put these into a jar with a lid, or simply into a bowl that you can cover. Pour over red wine vinegar (or lime juice), pressing down on the onions until they are all just immersed. Put the lid on the jar or cover your bowl, and leave the onions to steep.
2. When you’re ready to make and eat the bhorta, heat the oven to 220C/200C Fan, Gas 7. While you’re waiting, peel & slice your 2 regular onions into fine half-moons, deseed the chillies (or not if you prefer) & slice them finely & peel the garlic. If the skin is tough, peel the ginger (using the tip of a teaspoon) then grate it finely to give 1 tablespoonful.
3. When the oven’s hot, and your ingredients are assembled and ready, put the fish fingers on a baking sheet and cook for approx. 20–25 minutes, which may be slightly longer than the packet directs, but will ensure the breadcrumb coating is really crisp.
4. Meanwhile, warm the oil in a large frying pan (I use a wokshaped stir-fry pan), and cook the onions over medium-low for 20 minutes, stirring regularly, by which time they will be pale gold and soft.
5. Add the sliced chillies, stirring all the while, for 3 minutes, then stir in the grated ginger, mince or grate in the garlic & cook, still stirring, for another 2 mins. Spoon in the mustard & salt, stirring to combine, then add the spinach leaves and let them wilt in the pan for 2–3 minutes, stirring regularly, then squeeze in the juice of the lime.
6. Take the pan off the heat while you get the fish fingers. Break them up a bit with a spatula then add them to the wok or frying pan. Toss everything together, breaking them up further, and sprinkle over the coriander.
7. Serve topped with the pink-pickled onions, adding extra chopped coriander if wished.
Top Tip: Refrigerate leftovers, covered, and use within 24hrs. Eat cold.