What a catch: Mark Hix cooks with mackerel

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This versatile fish is healthy, delicious and great value for money...

Mackerel is one of those wonderfully abundant fish with which you can create sensational, cheap, healthy and delicious meals. If you are or have been holidaying by the coast this summer, you may well have been out to sea on a mackerel fishing trip or spotted groups of kids with strings of mackerel they have caught on a charter boat, with the poor old parents wondering what the hell they are going to do with them.

I'm a big fan of simply cooked mackerel grilled on the barbecue, which I remember from my childhood in Dorset – but there are plenty of new, interesting and alternative ways to serve up these tasty little scavengers. Here are just a few fresh ideas for you...

Crispy mackerel and ginger broth

Serves 4

This is a great way to use up some of your excess catch of mackerel using chunks of crispy, deep-fried fish in a lovely spicy broth.

When I make this recipe I usually defrost some crab or lobster stock out of the freezer that I've previously stashed away, but you could just as easily use a convenient fish stock cube or shop-bought fresh fish stock, which will work fine with the herbs and spices.

2 fillets from a medium-sized mackerel, boned and cut into 1cm chunks
2-3tbsp self-raising flour
150ml milk
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Vegetable or corn oil for deep frying
1ltr fish or shellfish stock
30-40g root ginger, peeled and finely shredded
1 medium red chilli, thinly sliced
1 stick of lemongrass, trimmed and finely chopped
4 lime leaves
2 spring onions, finely shredded on the angle
A small handful of coriander leaves, torn

Preheat about 8cm of oil to 160-180C in a large, thick-bottomed saucepan or electric deep-fat fryer.

Have two bowls ready, one with the milk and the other with the flour, seasoned. Coat the pieces of mackerel in the flour, shaking off the excess, then put them in the milk and then coat them in the flour again.

Carefully drop the mackerel pieces into the hot oil and cook them for about 5-6 minutes until they are really crisp, moving them around as they are cooking, and then remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and drain carefully on some kitchen paper.

Bring the fish stock to the boil, add the ginger, chilli, lime leaves and lemongrass and simmer for 3-4 minutes, then remove from the heat and add the spring onions and season to taste.

To serve, divide the pieces of mackerel and coriander between 4 bowls and pour the soup over and serve immediately.

Mackerel with sweetcorn salsa

Serves 4 as a starter

2 medium-sized mackerel, filleted and boned
A little flour for dusting
Vegetable or corn oil for frying

For the salsa

1 corn on the cob
1 red onion, peeled, halved and finely chopped
1 medium red chilli, finely chopped with the seeds
2 tomatoes, finely chopped
100-120ml olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2tbsp chopped coriander

Cook the sweetcorn in boiling salted water for about 15 minutes, until well cooked, then drain and leave to cool. Remove all of the kernels from the cob by cutting them away with a knife. To make the salsa, gently cook the onion and chilli in the olive oil for a minute then remove from the heat and stir in the corn, tomatoes and coriander; season to taste and add a little more oil if necessary.

Season the mackerel fillets and dust the skin lightly with flour. Heat the vegetable oil in a preferably non-stick frying pan and cook the fillets, skin-side down, for a couple of minutes, until the skin is crisp. Serve the fillets with the salsa spooned over.

Whole roasted mackerel with cucumber and mint salad

Serves 4

I think that mackerel is such a beautiful looking fish, with its distinctive black and blue colourings and its mini, tuna-like body. I like cooking them whole like this in my wood-fired oven in Dorset – they just curve gently round the edge of a cast-iron frying pan as they cook in a couple of minutes in the intense heat.

4 mackerel, weighing about 200-250g each, gutted
A little vegetable or corn oil for brushing
a cucumber
2 medium shallots or a small red onion, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
A small handful of mint leaves
The juice of half a lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6.

Cut the cucumber into 4-5cm lengths, then stand them on their ends and cut thin slices down on each side, avoiding the seeds and discarding them. Cut the slices into thin strips and mix them in a bowl with the shallots, mint leaves and lemon and season to taste.

Brush the mackerel with a little oil and season. Curve them around a round, oiled oven dish or frying pan and bake for 6-8 minutes, or until they are just cooked.

Serve with the salad.

Mackerel served two ways

Serves 4

This is a great way to push the boundaries a bit if you have an abundance of fish and want a change from the plain grilled fish. This dish draws on Japanese influences and combines spiced mackerel patties with crunchy breadcrumbed mackerel skewers. I've used stonecrop here as an optional extra – it's a wild coastal vegetable that has a fantastic texture and flavour, rather similar to jasmine flowers. If you can't get hold of any, don't worry.

4 small- to medium-sized mackerel, filleted and boned
2tbsp chopped chives
1 small mild green chilli, finely chopped
2tsp finely grated ginger
Flour for dusting
1 egg, beaten
20-30g fresh white or panko breadcrumbs
Vegetable or corn oil for deep frying
8 short bamboo skewers
A small handful of Asian leaves and herbs such as coriander, mizuna, pea shoots etc
A couple of teaspoons of soy sauce (or Kecap Manis)
Stonecrop or jasmine flowers (optional)
2 spring onions, finely shredded on the angle

Remove the skin from 4 of the mackerel fillets and finely chop them. Mix with the chilli, chives and ginger and season. Mould into 8 balls, then flatten them into patties with the help of a spatula or a palette knife and refrigerate.

Cut the other 4 fillets in half lengthways. Thread each of the pieces on to the ends of the skewers. Have three bowls ready, one with the flour seasoned, one with beaten egg and the third with the breadcrumbs. Pass the mackerel through the flour, shaking off any excess, then put them through the egg and finally the breadcrumbs.

Preheat about 8cm of oil to 160-180C in a large, thick-bottomed saucepan or electric deep-fat fryer. Heat a frying pan with a little vegetable oil and pan-fry the mackerel patties for a minute or so on each side. Meanwhile, deep-fry the mackerel skewers for a minute or so and drain on some kitchen paper.

To serve, arrange all of the ingredients on individual plates, or one large one.

Mark Hix will be doing a cooking demonstration with Alex James at 3pm on Sunday 11 September at the Harvest at Jimmy's Festival in Oxfordshire. There will also be a Hix food stand selling fish dogs, veal dogs and prawn cocktails. For more details, see alexjamespresentsharvest.com

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