Mack attack: Mark Hix's marvellous mackerel recipes

Some call it a 'second division' fish, but Mark Hix loves the mackerel for its freshness, flavour and availability
Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online

At this time of year there are always lots of tourists and locals casting feathers into the sea from our beaches, piers and promenades with the hope of snagging a few strings of mackerel. I used to do the same as a kid with a light rod and small float to give the small mackerel a fighting chance. I've always wondered what people actually do with their mackerel once they get them home. My gran used to split a few straight away, and whack them into the frying pan, then souse the rest and that was it. Both were delicious and memorable, but there are a lot of great recipes using mackerel.

Although mackerel is regarded by some as a second division fish, when it's really fresh I feel it has one of the best tastes of all, and is also one of the best for eating raw or as sashimi. I normally carry some wasabi and soy in my fishing bag for just such occasions. Mackerel does deteriorate rather quicker than other white fish so it's best to eat it within a couple days of catching or within a day of buying.

Childhood memories of mackerel fishing always bring to mind my grandad and his home-grown tomatoes. It must just be a summer thing because my grandmother never served them together, but if I could turn back the clock I would love to have mixed the two up – hence the tomato element in these recipes.

Fish House salad

Serves 4-6

As you can probably see this is a bit of a take on a salade Niçoise. With the recent scares about mercury levels in tuna, the mackerel, being a distant relative of the mighty tuna, may have to step in on a few classic dishes. Cooked in this way, there are similarities in flavour to canned tuna of the type that is generally used for a run-of-the-mill salade Niçoise. I actually think that mackerel cooked like this tastes better than some of the bog-standard canned tuna.

1 small onion, peeled, halved and finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
tsp cumin seeds
A few sprigs of thyme
2tbsp cider vinegar, plus a little more for the dressing
About 150ml or enough rapeseed oil to cover the mackerel
4 medium or 8 small fresh mackerel fillets
4 free-range hens' eggs, semi soft-boiled for 5 minutes then cooled under a cold tap
6-12 new potatoes, cooked in their skins and halved or quartered
200-250g ripe tomatoes
80-100g green beans, cooked
100-120g podded weight of broad beans, cooked
2 little gems, cleaned and leaves washed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat a couple tablespoons of the rapeseed oil in a saucepan and gently cook the shallots, garlic, chilli and all the spices for 2-3 minutes, without colouring, until soft. Add the rest of the rapeseed oil, the cider vinegar and lemon and heat to a gentle simmer. Season well with sea salt and drop in the mackerel fillets. Bring back to a simmer, cover, remove from the heat and leave to cool.

Carefully peel the eggs and rinse under a cold tap. Remove the mackerel from the oil and strain the liquid through a fine meshed sieve. Whisk the oil up and add some more vinegar to taste for the dressing.

To serve, shell any large broad beans if you wish and cut the tomatoes into wedges or chunks. Toss the little gems with some of the dressing, beans, potatoes and tomatoes and season then arrange in bowls. Break the mackerel into chunks and arrange on the leaves then halve or quarter the eggs and arrange on top. Spoon over more dressing and serve.

Mackerel on toast

Serves 4

This is a great snack or summery starter. There are some fantastic, home-grown tomatoes available in markets and greengrocers right now so you can use a selection of different shapes and colours. The cooking method for the mackerel for this is the same as above.

4 servings of mackerel cooked as in previous recipe
A selection of tomatoes (about 200g)
4 x 1cm slices of bread from a bloomer style loaf
A few small basil, salad or herb leaves (optional, according to preference)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Set your oven to the lowest temperature with the fan on (about 100C/gas mark 1). Cut the tomatoes into wedges if they are large or halves if they are cherries or small tomatoes, and lay them on a baking tray. Leave in the oven overnight or for 6-7 hours, or until they have lost about a third of their weight. Ovens vary so you will need to check them after a few hours.

Break the mackerel into pieces and gently mix with the tomatoes and some of the cooking liquid. Toast the bread on both sides then spoon the mackerel mixture on to the toast and scatter with herb or salad leaves (if using) and spoon over a little more of the liquid if necessary.

Mackerel ceviche salad with samphire

Serves 4

As I said earlier, mackerel is one of my favourite fish to eat raw. It has to be really fresh, of course, and it has to have that delicious, slightly oily texture with a full-on flavour. You can adapt this recipe to suit you taste by adding more or less chilli and vary the herbs and lemon, or lime quantity.

4 large or 8 small mackerel fillets, skinned and boned

The juice of 1 lime or half a lemon
1tbsp olive or rapeseed oil
1 small green or red chilli, finely chopped
tbsp finely chopped chives
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
150g samphire, lightly steamed
A small handful of very small salad and herb leaves (such as rocket, land cress, coriander, greek basil, etc), washed and dried

Cut the mackerel into rough cm dice. Mix with the lime juice, rapeseed oil, chilli and chives, season and leave to stand for 5 minutes giving it an occasional stir. Spoon the mackerel on to serving plates, scatter over the leaves and samphire, and spoon more of the dressing over if necessary.

Pan-fried mackerel with salsa

Serves 4

My grandfather knew a thing or two about growing tomatoes, and now when summer comes round I can't help but wish I still had access to the secrets of his greenhouse; a few of his firm but tasty tomatoes would make a magnificent salsa for my freshly caught mackerel. Grandma used to butterfly the mackerel, as I've done here, but she wasn't too meticulous about removing the bones. She would always flour them, which I've also done here, but I've added a little spice to the flour which I'm sure she would have approved of.

You could get your fishmonger to butterfly them for you or simply remove the heads and split them either side of the back bone with a sharp knife and remove the bones or leave them.

4 medium or 8 small mackerel, heads off
2tbsp plain flour
2tsp ground cumin
1tsp ground paprika
2tsp flaky sea salt
2tsp coarsely ground black pepper
2tbsp vegetable or corn oil

For the salsa

4 spring onions, cleaned, halved lengthways and finely chopped
1 red chilli, finely chopped
4 firm red tomatoes, finely chopped
tbsp cider or white wine vinegar
2tbsp olive oil
1tbsp chopped coriander
salt and freshly ground black pepper

First make the salsa by mixing all of the ingredients together and seasoning to taste then leave to stand for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Mix the flour with the cumin, paprika, salt and pepper then coat the mackerel on both sides, patting off any excess with your hands. Heat the oil in a frying pan and cook the mackerel, skin side down first, on a high heat for about 2-3 minutes on each side, making sure the skin is nice and crisp. Serve on warmed plates with the salsa spooned around.

Comments