Rus­sell Nor­man’s sea­sonal mack­erel lunch

Mack­erel.

Esquire (UK) - - Contents - By Rus­sell Nor­man

Serves four In­gre­di­ents

• 4 fresh mack­erel fil­lets • 2 medium heads fen­nel • 1 medium cu­cum­ber • Ex­tra vir­gin olive oil • Flaky sea salt

Method

① Pre­heat the oven to 180°C. Re­move the feath­ery fronds from the fen­nel bulbs and set aside. Slice the bulbs 5mm thick length­ways and brush each side gen­er­ously with olive oil. In a ribbed grid­dle pan on a high heat, sear each slice to make bold grill lines. Trans­fer the fen­nel onto a baking sheet, scat­ter with salt flakes and a good twist of black pep­per, and braise in the oven for 20mins.

② Cut ends off the cu­cum­ber and, us­ing a speed peeler, pare length­ways to cre­ate long, thin rib­bons. Set these aside.

③ Wipe the grid­dle pan clean, add a splash of olive oil and place onto a medium heat. Crunch a lit­tle salt over the mack­erel fil­lets and fry on each side for no more than 90secs (to­tal 3mins per fil­let). Time cook­ing so the mack­erel is fin­ished in the pan just as the fen­nel is done in the oven.

④ Lay down two or three fen­nel slices per plate, place a fish fil­let on top, and care­fully ar­range cu­cum­ber rib­bons so they curl in a hap­haz­ard way around the mack­erel. Scat­ter the fen­nel fronds, add a scant driz­zle of olive oil and, fi­nally, crunch over a few more pinches of sea salt flakes.

Mack­erel is unique. Its beau­ti­ful stripes and dis­tinc­tive tangy flavour set it apart

Ver­bal abuse in the restau­rant in­dus­try has been a hot topic lately. This is partly be­cause of an el­e­gantly im­pas­sioned speech from River Café founder Ruth Rogers at a re­cent awards cer­e­mony, and partly Chan­nel 4’s con­tro­ver­sial two-minute Twit­ter trailer, en­ti­tled “Gor­don Ram­say’s Top Melt­downs”. It’s a fu­ri­ous, foul­mouthed mon­tage from Kitchen Night­mares USA and, boy, does Gor­don let rip.

Per­son­ally, I pre­fer a softly-softly ap­proach to the ex­pres­sion of anger and would much rather make my dis­ap­pro­ba­tion known with a gen­tle eu­phemism than a flurry of four-let­ter words. I’m much more Mr Humphries in

Are You Be­ing Served? than Mr Ram­say in Hell’s Kitchen. That’s why I love tame ex­pres­sions like “jeeper’s creep­ers”, “good golly” and “holy mack­erel”. The first two ex­cla­ma­tions are al­most cer­tainly ways of avoid­ing tak­ing Je­sus and God’s name in vain, de­spite hav­ing al­ready com­mit­ted to their ini­tial let­ters. I’m guess­ing mack­erel is a way of swerv­ing “Mary” or “Mother of God”. It be­came the pre­ferred curse of the Caped Cru­sader’s side­kick Robin in the highly camp Six­ties Bat­man TV se­ries star­ring Adam West and Burt Ward, and I’d say that, as a cuss, it is due a re­vival.

Mack­erel is unique. It looks and tastes like no other fish on the mar­ket. Its beau­ti­ful green and black stripes and dis­tinc­tive tangy flavour set it apart from all those low­est-com­mon-de­nom­i­na­tor flaky white fishes that tend to be the de­fault set­ting on so many restau­rant menus and in chip­pies up and down the land. It also has a thrillingly meaty tex­ture that makes you think you’re get­ting more than you paid for. It’s not ex­pen­sive ei­ther, be­ing the most ubiq­ui­tous catch at this time of year off pretty much the en­tire south coast of Eng­land.

This light lunch, per­fect for a sum­mer’s day, uses mack­erel fil­lets, so ask the fish­mon­ger to do the messy work for you. But do not make the mis­take of re­mov­ing the skin. Mack­erel scales are so tiny that the skin feels vel­vety and smooth. It looks stun­ning and it cooks beau­ti­fully. When plat­ing, don’t worry too much about ev­ery­thing be­ing pip­ing hot as this is ef­fec­tively a warm salad, so while the fish should be fresh from the pan, the rest is fine at room tem­per­a­ture. And, per­haps counter-in­tu­itively, I’d rec­om­mend a lightly chilled red wine to ac­com­pany this, Ga­may or Re­fosco, for ex­am­ple. Those cool, fruity va­ri­etals go per­fectly with the salty flesh of the mack­erel.

Rus­sell’s new book Venice: Four Sea­sons of Home Cook­ing is pub­lished by Pen­guin Fig Tree and is out now

Pho­to­graphs by Dan Burn-Forti

“Holy mack­erel, Bat­man!” — Robin the Boy Won­der Fish of the day: Rus­sell Nor­man’s sea­sonal warm salad of flash-fried fresh mack­erel fil­lets, braised fen­nel and cu­cum­ber

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