I hadn’t realised how long it had been since I last wrote a post. As anticipated, the return home a couple of weeks ago means we have had to hit the ground running – too much to do, so little time, plus fabulous, though freezing weather. This, combined with the clocks changing at the weekend means we have almost switched to our outdoor feral lifestyle that longer days bring. Oh, and the ensuing meatfest – continued delivery of greylag geese, requiring plucking and preparation (I have also tried some curing, we will see if it works…). We also took delivery of half an old spot pig from our neighbour, butchery of which commenced this evening. More on that subject another time, soon.
I therefore must apologise, fellow bloggers, for my reduced interactions – I haven’t had as much time to read and comment on your lovely blogs as I would like recently. Also to those vegetarian readers for the meatfest. There are some vegetarian posts in my log jam of drafts, please bear with me!
I’m not going to go on about the weather, in fact it is really beautifully clear and crisp here and has been for the last two weeks. It certainly looks like spring more than it feels like it, the vegetation is slow to grow and the lapwings look a bit perplexed about the lack of cover in their favoured nesting areas behind the house.
The arrival of spring was qualified last week by the birth of the first lambs on the croft behind our house. I had a walk up and watched them gambolling around the temple a few nights ago. The trio are two twins and a single who were engrossed in a competition of head-butting and leaping off rocks and bucking wildly before I interrupted. The field will soon be full as new born lambs are let out of the barn with their mothers and the cacophony of displaying waders and shrill bleating will reach a crescendo by Mid-April.
Fishing at last
The brown trout fly fishing season has now started. We went out last Saturday in conditions that were the most inhospitable I have ever fished in, so cold I couldn’t feel my fingers and hence the line, winds 35 to 40 mph). Strong winds don’t usually deter us – or the fish, but the biting cold was insufferable and after an hour, we gave up the pointless exercise and went home.
The weather remained pretty static over this week, and it didn’t require a soothsayer to foresee another fishless outing. With too much to do in the garden, I opted out and left The Man Named Sous to experience the challenging Loch Hosta unaccompanied. I have fished this bowl-like machair loch 5 or 6 times and despite it’s reputation for good fishing, I have always blanked.
I know, I should take my role as the current Chair of North Uist Angling Club more seriously. I’m such a lightweight. At this stage, I think it would be pertinent to point out that I have not been selected as Chair in a bun fight between those with the best angling prowess across the Isles. No, I happened to be one of the very few present in the room at the time of the AGM who did not already have a committee role and did not raise sufficient objection not to be awarded the accolade. In fairness, it at least saves the same 3 or 4 people from having to take on the role for a year. In fact, it is our very efficient secretary who keeps the club running smoothly, the only unique role for the Chair being a short speech at the annual dinner at the end of April.
I am glad that I stayed in the garden and had a very productive day. First I checked my seedlings. Thanks to the very stable environment of my new heated propagator, half of my 8 chilli varieties have germinated. I planted tomatoes, a plethora of herbs and organised my rotation for the raised beds.
Then, with some trepidation, I decided to start excavating the inside of the old inn, the ruined blackhouse in the corner of our garden where I have resolved to grow potatoes in this year, this covered in a previous potato-based post.
A couple of years ago, we covered over the inside of the ruin with weed suppressing fabric and stored wood and other materials on top of it. After a struggle to drag off the heavily vegetated fabric, I began digging and to my delight found no mat of weed roots and an ideal soil texture almost free of stones. Almost. The next day I did have to get help from The Man Named Sous to remove a rock pile from the centre, as a well as a huge stone that had fallen off the building and into the centre.
It took 2 of us about an hour to dig it out and roll it onto the surrounding walls as it must have weighed at least 100kg. As ever, there is always the expectation that you may find some buried treasure. Well, I did, but it amounted to nothing more than the remains of a long dead sheep and a couple of neat ink bottles. The dogs thought it was an awesome way to spend a Saturday – digging holes, spraying me with soil and eating roots. What more could a dog want?
Brown trout ceviche
I was delighted that The Man Named Sous did bring home a fish, a 1lb 3 oz brown trout, despite the less than perfect fishing conditions – glare and cold. Ceviche is one of our favourite trout dishes and a really great way to enjoy exceptionally fresh wild fish.
Ceviche is invariably the first dish I make at the start of the new season which also signifies the start of longer and (hopefully) warmer days, a dish I associate with summer, barbecues and eating al fresco (usually while wearing a fleece in North Uist). Sadly, when I visited Ecuador, I was still vegetarian so I have not yet had the opportunity to experience the dish other than that of my own concoction.
I have tried a few ceviche recipes and I tend to ring the changes depending on the amount of each citrus fruit I have at the time, these essentially ‘cook’ the fish. A reliable recipe for anyone making ceviche for the first time is the River Cottage Sea Fishing Handbook which I have used here.
Filleting fish does take a bit of practice, the secret is a very good quality and exceptionally sharp and slightly flexible filleting knife. I use Chroma Type 301 Japanese steel knives which I find very balanced and more comfortable to use than Global, for example. The Chroma filleting knife is very long, flexible, and sharp enough to shave with. I know this because this is how The Man named Sous, a knife sharpening expert, tests the sharpness of blades (on his arm, I should add, he has a beard!).
These knives are very difficult to sharpen as this must be done on a whetstone, with the correct bevel being applied to each edge of the blade, which varies according to if you are right or left-handed – so I am told. The knife makes filleting very easy. There is no need to scale the fish for this dish as the skin is not used, although you will need to remove the pin bones.
For ceviche, my preference is for delicately thin slices of the translucent flesh. Provided the ceviche is eaten relatively quickly, they will not go mushy. These are removed along the length of the fillet, each being thin enough to see the blade of the knife through.
500g fish fillets – brown trout in this case
juice of 3 limes
juice of 2 lemons
juice of 1 orange
1 red chilli, deseeded and chopped
1 clove of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 tsp caster sugar
1 red onion, peeled and sliced
2 celery stalks, finely sliced
salt and pepper
- Slice the trout or your chosen fish as described – if you proposed to leave the fish in the acidic mixture for longer than a few hours, make the fish slices a bit thicker than I have.
- Pour over the citrus, add the chopped vegetables, sugar and season with salt and pepper.
- Mix carefully and leave in the fridge for about an hour, it will go paler as a result of its acidic immersion.
- Serve with crusty bread – I chose broa bread and enjoy with a refreshing glass of white wine.
Addendum – Parasites and fish
Thanks to Ken at The Garum Factory, I was reminded that I forgot to include a fundamental point in my blog, so much so I thought it should add a bit more info to highlight it. That is wild fish, fresh or salt water can contain parasites that have infectious stages capable of infecting humans, because we are mammals, we are potential hosts for some parasites.
Fish lightly ‘pickled’ in citrus juice, such as ceviche is essentially raw and therefore there is an elevated risk that you may eat a fish containing infective stages of parasites.
Parasites – a life less ordinary
The evolution and ecology of parasitism is a subject I would discuss ad nauseam. As a zoologist, I have always been fascinated by the behavioural ecology, life histories, pathological and immunological effects of parasitism. They are very specialised organisms capable of controlling the behaviour of their hosts to ensure their lifecycle is completed e.g. by releasing chemicals that alter the behaviour of an animal to make it more vulnerable to predation – there are many examples out there in the literature.
Parasitology formed a big component of my academic education. My PhD focussed on parasitoids – not quite the same as parasitism but with the same evolutionary origins. Parasitoids differ from parasites because they always kill their host to complete their lifecycle whereas a parasite needs to keep its host alive to complete its lifecycle. Many insects are parasitoids, this being a relatively common insect life history. To offer an analogy, the ‘Alien’ films illustrate the life history of a typical parasitoid. The alien is a parasitoid and needs to kill her host to successfully produce offspring. She lays her egg in a human host which is somewhat gruesomely killed as the nascent alien emerges I digress. Back to parasites of fish.
Looking for evidence of parasites
Parasites occur naturally in wild fish populations and as an angler, I have gained a bit of local knowledge and experience about which lochs contain fish with parasites, or heavier parasite loads. I am also familiar with what the main species infecting our fish look like at different life stages within the fish and this helps me make a judgement call about whether I can use the fish for ceviche, cook it, or not use it at all.
It is important to examine the fish externally, gut and clean the fish as soon as possible to reduce migration of parasite larvae into the muscle (although sometimes they will already be there anyway). Also, I slice the fillets very finely. Providing my examination has given the fish the all clear to the filleting stage, the translucent fillets are easy to see through to check for larvae, a bit like the practice in commercial fish preparation where fish are examined over candling tables, the light shining through fillet to reveal and allow removal of parasites from the flesh.
I would not eat a raw thick fillet, just in case. I would not use fish for ceviche if I found parasites in the muscle or gut and I would not eat fish with parasite cysts in the flesh at all – even cooked. Sometimes evidence of parasites can be seen on the outside of the fish and there is the option to return it.
Trout and parasites
The brown trout (Salmo trutta) includes both purely freshwater populations and the diadromous (moving between fresh and salt water) form, sea trout. Sea trout migrate, spending most time in the sea only returning to freshwater to spawn (so technically they are anadromous).
Parasitic worms known generically as helminths to zoologists, fall into 2 broad categories: roundworms (nematodes) and tapeworms (cestodes). Both are found in brown trout. Roundworms such as Anisakis simplex are marine in origin, the definitive host (host in which they reproduce) being mammalian – dolphins or whales. Sea trout can be infected with these worms, but not freshwater brown trout as caught in Loch Hosta. This is an entirely freshwater population of trout. The one most common parasites for freshwater populations is the tapeworm Diphyllobothrium latum.
The fascinating lifecycle of a common parasite
Adult tapeworms of Diphyllobothrium latum can reach remarkable lengths – up to 12m and are found in mammal hosts. So where does the trout come in? Well, brace yourself. Like the lifecycle of many parasites, it involves multiple hosts and life stages and is extraordinarily complex. I have simplified it a bit so you might still be awake at the end of the explanation!
The definitive host – mammal
Adult tapeworms live in a range of definitive mammal hosts, including humans. They are long flattened pale worms composed of nothing more than the scolex (head), neck and the lower body. Each side of the scolex has a slit-like groove, which is a bothrium (tentacle) for attachment to the intestine. They have no mouth and feed by absorption.
They are hermaphrodites that self fertilise (which makes evolutionary sense) and many millions of eggs are continually produced and released in segments called proglottids and leave via the digestive tract. They can survive for up to 3 years once outside the body.
The first intermediate host – copepod
Hosts e.g. otters here excrete the eggs which make their way into freshwater bodies and streams. This is where the next host comes in – a small aquatic crustacean called a copepod eats the eggs and the tapeworm larvae hatches within the copepod. Here it lives for a few weeks, changing form again to an infective procercoid phase.
The second intermediate host – trout
The infected copepods are eaten by trout. When inside the trout, the proceroid migrates to the flesh of the fish and further develops into another form called the plerocercoid. This is the infective stage for us mammals and of most interest to the angler. It is a cream coloured worm, those I have seen are in the region of a few mm wide by 2-3 cm long. If the fish is caught and this infective stage is in the flesh and its presence goes unnoticed and the fish is eaten raw, the parasite has successfully completed its lifecycle and it is back in the definitive host – possibly me!.
Ceviche – don’t try this at home?
In the end you have to weight up the risk against experience, but you are not confident about what you are looking for, if in doubt, cook or freeze your trout.