A taste of the sea: Mark Hix gets creative with mackerel

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Mackerel is sublime – but as our resident chef points out - there are other ways to dish up this tasty little scavenger.

I've decided to write a column about mackerel every year now, as they are so abundant in Lyme Bay. In fact, they proliferate on all our coastlines and I think people need a few more ideas about how to cook these tasty little scavengers, much as I love to eat them simply grilled or fried. If you get a chance to fish for mackerel, do go; it's a great way to get the children involved in catching, cooking and eating fish.

Mackerel broth with tomatoes and coriander

Serves 4

This is a good way to use up excess mackerel and you can use the skin, bones and heads from the smoked mackerel pâté recipe overleaf to make the broth.

2 medium-sized mackerel, filleted
1.5ltr fish stock
3-4 ripe tomatoes, quartered
1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped

To serve

30-40g root ginger, peeled and finely grated (reserve the skin)
12 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 medium red chilli, thinly sliced
2 spring onions, finely shredded on the angle
>A small handful of coriander leaves, torn

Remove the skin from the mackerel fillets and put the fillets to one side. Next, put the skin in a saucepan with the mackerel bones, cover with water, bring to a simmer, then drain and rinse the bones in cold water. Put the bones in a pan with the fish stock, tomatoes, onion and ginger peelings, bring to the boil and simmer gently for 30 minutes, then strain through a sieve into a clean pan.

To serve, cut the mackerel into chunks and add to the broth with the ginger, cherry tomatoes, chilli and spring onions. Simmer for 2-3 minutes, season, divide the coriander between 4 bowls and pour the broth over and serve immediately.

Thai baked mackerel

Serves 4

The availability of Thai and Asian ingredients is so much better than it was 10 or so years ago – even down in Dorset at the local car boot sale I've spotted a stand dedicated to Asian ingredients.

Once you find them, banana leaves can be cut to size and frozen for future use.

You can use most types of fish for this but mackerel does work particularly well with its oily flesh.

4 medium-sized mackerel, gutted and scored a few times

For the Thai paste

1tbsp light (not toasted) sesame oil
1 small mild chilli, deseeded and roughly chopped
1 lemongrass stalk, woody outer layer and ends removed and the bulbous end roughly chopped
30-40g galangal or root ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
4 lime leaves, roughly chopped
½tsp ground cumin
10g coriander leaves
20g Thai basil
1 banana leaf, cut into 4

For the dipping sauce

1tbsp sesame oil
1 small red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
1tbsp finely chopped galangal or root ginger
1tbsp finely chopped lemongrass
2 lime leaves
1 garlic clove, crushed
3tbsp soy sauce

For the rice

225g basmati rice, rinsed well in cold water
2 lemongrass stalks, bulbous ends crushed
8 lime leaves
Salt

Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. To make the dipping sauce, heat the sesame oil in a pan and fry the chilli, galangal, lemongrass, lime leaves and garlic gently for 1 minute to soften them and release their flavours.

Add the soy sauce, bring to the boil, then allow to cool and pour into a bowl or, ideally, individual dipping-sauce dishes.

Now make the rice. Cook the lemongrass with the lime leaves in about a litre of simmering salted water for 10 minutes.

Add the rice and simmer for 10-12 minutes more until it is just cooked.

Drain in a sieve, then return to the pan, cover with a lid and let it stand for 10 minutes before serving. This will help the rice become nice and fluffy.

In the meantime, while the rice is cooking, prepare the mackerel.

Heat the sesame oil in a pan and gently cook the chopped chilli, lemongrass, galangal, garlic, lime leaves and ground cumin for a couple of minutes until the aromatics are soft.

Tip the pan's contents into a food processor with the coriander and Thai basil, together with a couple of tablespoons of water, and blend to a paste.

Spread this on the fish and wrap each one in a piece of banana leaf, like a parcel, folding the leaf so the edges join beneath the fillet.

Bake for 10-15 minutes, until the tip of a skewer inserted into the centre of a parcel comes out hot.

Place a fish parcel on each plate with a pot of the dipping sauce.

Serve the rice in individual bowls or in a large bowl to be passed around.

Mackerel sandwich

Serves 4

I've seen these mackerel 'dogs' appearing at several food festivals and farmers' markets and they can be prepared in various ways – one that I tasted recently was in the form of a mackerel burger.

I've spiced a tartare sauce up a bit here with some chilli or, if you prefer, you could simply go with straight tartare sauce.

4 large mackerel fillets, boned
Flour for dusting
1 egg, beaten
40-50g fresh white breadcrumbs
Vegetable or corn oil for frying
4 large soft torpedo rolls or hot dog buns, halved
A few salad leaves (optional)
Tartare sauce, to serve, mixed with chilli sauce (or a finely chopped red chilli)

Have three bowls ready, one with the seasoned flour, one with the egg and the third with the breadcrumbs. Lightly coat the mackerel fillets in the flour, shaking off any excess, then pass through the egg and finally the breadcrumbs.

Heat the oil in a frying pan and cook the mackerel fillets for a couple of minutes on each side until crisp and golden; remove and drain on some kitchen paper. Lay a few salad leaves on the base of the hot dog bun, lay the mackerel on top with some tartare sauce and place the top on; serve immediately.

Smoked mackerel pâté

Serves 4-6

This is a dead simple recipe and it can be rustled up in no time. Try to avoid buying those peppered vacuum-packed mackerel fillets; if you can get hold of whole smoked fish or good quality fillets then you can use the bones for the broth above.

200-250g smoked mackerel fillet with all of the skin and bones removed
About 200g crème fraîche
Salt and cayenne pepper
Toast and lemon, to serve

Put the smoked mackerel into a food processor with half of the crème fraîche and a little salt and cayenne pepper and blend until smooth. Add more crème fraîche and seasoning to taste.

Refrigerate and serve with toast and lemon and some salad leaves if you wish.

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