Neptune's Bounty: Eating 52 species in 52 weeks to explore alternatives to cod, haddock, tuna, salmon and prawns.
Neptune's Bounty Week 5 is all about one of the most accessible alternative fish in the UK when you're trying to eat beyond the Big 5. Mackerel is easily available in its smoked form from most supermarkets, even the small 'local' branches. With its decent shelf life and no need to cook, smoked mackerel is a great stand by, as is the tinned version. It also delivers three ways, being cheap, nutritious and tasty to eat.
Fresh mackerel is not to be ignored though, or dismissed for fear of tackling a whole fish. A firm, fresh whole mackerel is one of the easier fish to prepare. Simply make a shallow cut along the belly up to the head, pull out the innards and rinse thoroughly in cold water. Then grill or bake; something like devilled mackerel with a watercress salad or even better put them on the barbecue with fresh herbs and lemon. The fresher the better when it comes to pelagic fish like mackerel and herring but not everyone has the luxury of living near a working harbour or even a local fishmonger. Just buy the best looking fish you can find and ask the fish counter or fishmonger (if you have access to one) to prepare it for you.
Mackerel is a widespread species across Europe, from the Mediterranean to Iceland and Norway. Mackerel caught in British waters spawn in the spring, so are at their best in the winter months (according to Catherine Brown, Scottish Regional Recipes, Moldendinar Press, 1981, pp.87). With their high fat content, these fish pair well with sharp, punchy flavours, similar to Week 3's herring (see here for my herring with autumn salsa recipe). Poshed-up blow torched mackerel with things like gooseberries are now a standard on restaurant menus but such a combination can be traced back to the time of the Norman conquest in the U.K. (West Country Fish Recipes, J. Salmon Ltd, pp.5).
As smoked mackerel is relatively easy to get hold of I'm featuring a recipe using this type for Neptune's Bounty Week 5. Not all smoked mackerel is created equal though; if you can find some from a small smokehouse that uses traditional methods it will probably have a far superior, smokier flavour to the vac-packed supermarket version (though MSC labelled mackerel is usually easy to find there). This recipe is simple to put together, using the store cupboard workhorse couscous alongside citrus flavours and whatever salad veg you have in the house. Baking the couscous in the oven with the fish brings out maximum flavour from the mackerel and saves space on the worktop or hob. For more than one person I like to lug out the food processor and chop and grate loads of things like cucumber, carrot and beetroot, pile them on a big serving dish and top with the couscous and the fish and then let everyone dig in and help themselves.
Citrus mackerel salad with baked couscous
- 200g couscous
- 500g vegetable stock
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 1 pack MSC smoked mackerel fillets (peppered or plain)
- 1 small bulb of fennel (keep the fronds)
- 1 small red onion
- ½ a small cucumber, peeled
- 1 bunch radishes, trimmed and washed
- 1 carrot, peeled
- 1-2 cooked beetroots
- handful cherry tomatoes
- 1 orange
- 1 grapefruit (any colour)
- juice of ½ a lemon
- small bunch of parsley
- salt and pepper
- Kitchen scales or dry measure
- Mixing bowls (large and small)
- Measuring jug
- Wooden spoon
- Measuring spoons
- Oven dish (pyrex or stoneware, big enough for the couscous, stock and fish)
- Oven tray
- Kitchen foil or baking paper
- Vegetable peeler
- Chopping board
- Sharp cook's knife
- Food processor with grater and slicing attachment (optional)
- Small fruit or serrated knife
- Small whisk
- Serving platter
- Heat the oven to 180 degrees. Put the couscous in a baking dish on a tray, pour over the stock and 1 tbsp of olive oil. Top with the mackerel. Cover and bake in the oven for 15 minutes.
- In a food processor or by hand finely chop the fennel, red onion, cucumber and radishes. Grate the carrot and beetroot. Slice the tomatoes in half.
- Peel and segment the orange and grapefruit. Keep a bowl under the fruit to collect the juice.
- Make a dressing by whisking together the collected citrus juice, the rest of the olive oil, the lemon juice and some seasoning. Chop the parsley and add to the dressing.
- Remove the fish and couscous from the oven. Set the fish carefully aside. Stir the citrus segments and a little dressing through the couscous.
- Put the salad vegetables on a large serving platter. Top with the couscous and the fish. Drizzle over the rest of the dressing and a bit more seasoning and the fennel fronds to garnish.
What else can you do with mackerel?
- Grab a can of tinned mackerel in decent olive oil and add to a greek salad (weird but tasty!)
- Devilled mackerel is divine - make up a spicy butter, slather over a whole mackerel or fresh fillets and grill till bubbling on both sides.
- Look out for smoked mackerel with chilli to make a change from peppered fillets.
Even more ideas...