ArchiveJune 26, 2004

The humble little silvery dappled Mackerel

Of all the wondrous fish in the sea, it may come as a surprise that if I had to choose one sea fish, it would have to be the humble little mackerel – fresh from the sea – eaten within hours of being caught, it’s a feast.
The humble little silvery dappled mackerel are full of Omega -3 – in fact they have the highest content of all fish. Omega-3 essential fatty acids have been shown to have a lowering effect on blood fats and may also help inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis. However, because of the oils mackerel deteriorate faster than any other fish.
The fishermen always say that “the sun should never set on a mackerel” so best to enjoy them when you are actually by the sea.
We poach them whole and serve them with a herby Bretonne Sauce, pan-grilled, they are delicious served with everything from a simple parsley butter melting over the crisp skin to a green gooseberry sauce which acts as a counterbalance to the rich mackerel. They roast beautifully in a hot oven and are particularly irresistible when you pop them on your barbecue. We simply sandwich them between two wire cake racks to make it easy to turn them over.
Very fresh mackerel make delicious sashimi and can of course be used in sushi. We pickle them in various ways, sometimes with mustard seeds, sliced tomatoes and wine vinegar, and maybe a sprinkle of turmeric. I also love old-fashioned soused mackerel with thinly sliced onion, a scattering of black peppercorns and a few bay leaves, tucked in between the ‘rollmops’ for extra pzazz.
They keep for at least a week in the fridge so if you have a glut, fillet them off and cook them gently. 
Serve soused or pickled mackerel with a piped potato salad and a sweet mustard and dill mayo and a beetroot or tomato salad.
When the mackerel are ‘in’ anyone even fair-weather ‘fishermen’ like me can manage to catch a fish. Just buy a line with a few feathers , drop it over the side of the pier or a boat and wait for the fish to bite. Its so exciting to catch your own supper, makes the fish taste even more divine.

Warm Poached Mackerel with Bretonne Sauce

Serves 4 as a main course, 8 as a starter 

Fresh mackerel gently poached and served warm with this simple sauce is an absolute feast - without question one of my favourite foods. . 

4 fresh mackerel 
1.2 litres (40 fl ozs) water 
1 teaspoon salt 
Bretonne Sauce 
55g (2ozs) butter, melted
2 eggs yolks, preferably free range 
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard (We use Maille Verte Aux Herbes)
2 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped or a mixture of chervil, chives, tarragon and fennel, chopped 

Cut the heads off very fresh mackerel. Gut and clean them but keep whole. Bring the water to the boil, add the salt and the mackerel. Bring back to boiling point, and remove from the heat. After about 5-8 minutes, check to see whether the fish are cooked. The flesh should lift off the bone. It will be tender and melting. 
Meanwhile make the sauce. Melt the butter and allow to boil. Put the egg yolks into a pyrex bowl, add the mustard, wine vinegar and the herbs, mix well. Whisk the hot melted butter into the egg yolk mixture little by little so that the sauce emulsifies. Keep warm, by placing the pyrex bowl in a saucepan of hot but not boiling water. 
When the mackerel is cool enough to handle, remove to a plate. Skin, lift the flesh carefully from the bones and arrange on a serving dish. Coat with the sauce and serve while still warm with a good green salad and new potatoes.

Soused Mackerel and Sweet Mustard and Dill Mayonnaise

Serves 8 as a main course, 16 as a starter 
Keeps for a week to 10 days in the fridge.

8 mackerel
1 thinly sliced onion 
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
6 whole cloves
1 teaspoon salt 
1 teaspoon sugar
1 bay leaf 
300ml (10 fl ozs) white wine vinegar

Sweet Mustard and Dill Mayonnaise

(see recipe)
Gut, wash and fillet the herrings, making sure there are no bones, a tall order with herring - but do your best. Roll up the fillets skin side out and pack tightly into a cast iron casserole. Sprinkle over thinly sliced onion, peppercorns, cloves, salt, sugar, vinegar and a bay leaf. Bring to the boil on top of the cooker and then pop into a very low oven, 140ºC/275ºF/regulo 1, for 30-45 minutes. 
Allow to get quite cold. Soused mackerel will keep for 7-10 days in the fridge. 
To Serve
Put one or two fillets of soused mackerel on a plate, zig zag with sweet mustard and dill mayonnaise. 
Serve with fresh crusty bread.

Mustard and Dill Mayonnaise

1 large egg yolk, preferably free range
2 tablesp. French mustard
1 tablesp. white sugar
3 pint (150ml) ground nut or sunflower oil
1 tablesp. white wine vinegar
1 tablesp. dill, finely chopped
Salt and white pepper

Whisk the egg yolk with the mustard and sugar, drip in the oil drop by drop whisking all the time, then add the vinegar and fresh dill.

Mackerel with Chermoula

Serves 4
Surprisingly mackerel can be found in Tangiers fish market alongside the more exotic Mediterranean fish. Being a strongly flavoured fish, mackerel takes easily to the spicing of this chermoula, and becomes an altogether more exciting fish.

3 garlic cloves, crushed
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons paprika
pinch of dried chilli flakes
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 tablespoons chopped coriander
150ml (¼pint) Extra Virgin olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
4 medium mackerel, cleaned

lemon wedges

Put the crushed garlic into a small bowl with the cumin, paprika, chilli flakes, parsley and coriander. Slowly add the oil, mixing it thoroughly. Stir in the lemon juice. Cut 3 or 4 slanting slashes on both sides of each fish. Spread the chermoula mixture over the fish, rubbing it well into the slashes. Leave to marinade in a cool place for 1 hour.
Cook the fish under a preheated grill, or on a hot barbecue, turning once or twice, until the flesh just flakes when tested with a fork.
Serve with lemon wedges.

Mackerel with Tomatoes and Tapenade

Serves 4
4 fresh mackerel fillets
4 large ripe tomatoes, thinly sliced
l teasp.thyme leaves
salt and freshly ground pepper

For the Tapenade Dressing
30g (1 oz) Kalamata olives, stones removed
2 anchovy fillets in olive oil, drained
1 ½ teaspoon capers in brine, drained and rinsed
1 small garlic clove, crushed
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

Flat parsley sprigs.

Preheat the grill to high. 
Arrange the tomato slices in a single layer on a lightly oiled baking tray. Season lightly with some salt and pepper and sprinkle with the thyme leaves.
Slash the skin of each mackerel fillet two or three times and place, skin side up, on top of the tomatoes.
Meanwhile make the tapenade dressing. Chop the olives, anchovy and capers, add the crushed garlic, it should have a coarsish texture. Add the oil and vinegar and season to taste.
Grill the mackerel until the skin is crisp and the fish is cooked through and the tomatoes are warm. 
Transfer to warm plates and spoon over a little of the tapenade. Serve immediately with little sprigs of flat parsley.

Mackerel Sandwich with Mushrooms and Fresh Herbs

Serves 4
This delicious ‘sandwich’ transforms the humble little mackerel into something quite trendy and utterly delicious.

4 very fresh mackerel
15g (½ oz) butter
4 teaspoon finely chopped fresh herbs - thyme, parsley, chives, fennel and lemon balm
110g (4oz) mushrooms, finely chopped
Seasoned flour
1-2 cloves of garlic, crushed

Fresh herbs 
Chive flowers if available

Fillet the mackerel, wash, dry and dip in flour which has been well seasoned with salt and freshly ground pepper. Spread a little soft butter evenly over the flesh side of each fillet. Heat a frying pan or cast-iron pangrill large enough to take the fish in a single layer. Sauté until golden on both sides. 
Remove the fish to a hot serving dish or four individual plates. Add the mushrooms and garlic to the pan. Cook for 2-3 minutes, add the fresh herbs and season with a little salt and freshly ground pepper if necessary. Divide the mixture in four. Spoon a quarter over four of the fillets and top each with another fillet, crispy side upwards. Garnish with a sprig of fresh herbs and perhaps a few chive flowers. Serve immediately.

Note: This mushroom, garlic and herb mixture is also delicious served with sautéed chicken livers on toast, as a first course.

Foolproof Food

Potato and Spring Onion Salad

The secret of delectable potato salad is simple, use good quality potatoes, peel and toss in French Dressing while still warm. Mayonnaise may be omitted if a less rich potato salad is your choice.
Serves 4-6

2 lbs (900g) freshly cooked potatoes - diced, allow about 23 lbs (1.1kg) raw potatoes
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 tablespoon chopped chives or scallions or 2 teaspoons chopped onion
4 fl ozs (120ml) French dressing
4 fl oz (120 ml) Mayonnaise
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

The potatoes should be boiled in their jackets and peeled, diced and measured while still hot. Mix immediately with onion, parsley, salt and freshly ground pepper. Stir in the French dressing, allow to cool and finally add the mayonnaise. Keeps well for about 2 days.
Note: This potato salad is also delicious without Mayonnaise. Potato salad may be used as a base for other salads, eg. add cubes of garlic salami, cooked Kabanossi sausages or cooked mussels.

Piped Potato Salad

The first time we made this salad it was out of necessity because we overcooked the potatoes. It was a great success and now we make it regularly by choice!

4½ cups freshly mashed potato

Add Ballymaloe French dressing, finely chopped parsley, chives, mayonnaise and seasoning to the stiff potato to taste. Pipe onto individual leaves of lettuce or use to garnish an appetiser salad or hors d'oeuvres.

Hot Tips

Mackerel are cheap so grasp the opportunity to practice your filleting technique – if the knife slips it won’t break the bank!

Mackerel are unquestionably best eaten on the day they are caught, if you catch, buy or get a present of more than you can eat, be sure to gut them, wash and chill in the fridge overnight. They deteriorate much faster if the insides are not removed.

July events foodie events
Friday 2nd July – Slow Food Market on Bantry’s Main Street from 9-4 in aid of Co-Action – the West Cork organisation which provides services for adults with physical and mental handicaps. Denis Cotter of Cork’s Café Paradiso will be cooking and selling Café Paradiso produce on the day plus many, many more attractions. This coincides with the weekend of the Bantry Chamber Music Festival. If you would like a stall contact Clodagh on 023-52977 or  

Sunday 4th July – Euro-Toques Ireland 3rd National Food Forum and Food Fair at Brooklodge, Macreddin Village, Co Wicklow –  Tel 01-6779995 

Wed 7th – Friday 9th July - Antony Worrall -Thompson – well known TV chef will be guest chef at Ballymaloe Cookery School – Tel 021-4646785


Past Letters