In sea­son

Make mack­erel front and cen­tre with our top recipes

Food and Travel (UK) - - Contens - RECIPES AND FOOD STYLING: LINDA TUBBY. PHOTOGRAPHY AND PROP STYLING: AN­GELA DUKES

Af­ter years un­der threat, these eye-catch­ing and ver­sa­tile fish

are firmly back on the menu, says Clarissa Hy­man

MACK­EREL ES­CABECHE WITH RHUBARB SAUCE

The sharp­ness of this vi­brant sauce cuts through the oili­ness of the fish su­perbly.

F&T WINE MATCH

Bright yel­low sherry with del­i­cate al­mond notes and a long fin­ish (eg Hi­jos de Rain­era Pérez Marín La Guita man­zanilla)

Read­ers of a sen­si­tive dis­po­si­tion should move straight over the next para­graph or they might never eat mack­erel again, which would be a great loss. For the diner, if not the fish.

The rea­son these splen­did sil­very fish were once called the ‘scav­engers of the seas’ was be­cause they were said to have fed on drowned sailors. This the­ory, I am glad to re­port, is now thor­oughly debunked but as the writer Alice Thomas El­lis once pro­nounced: ‘It is never a good idea to spec­u­late too thor­oughly on the eat­ing habits of what you’re eat­ing.’

It is a tru­ism that all fish should be fresh but some have to be fresher than oth­ers. Or, rather, they spoil more quickly. In the 17th cen­tury there was a spe­cial law al­low­ing fish­mon­gers in Billings­gate to sell mack­erel on Sun­days, when all other trade was for­bid­den be­cause their high oil con­tent means they need to be eaten as soon as pos­si­ble af­ter land­ing. Straight from the sea into your pan or on the beach bar­be­cue is the ideal; and they taste bet­ter if you catch them your­self, so I am told.

Scomber scom­brus, their Latin name, makes them sound like a char­ac­ter from Game of Thrones, and they do have a sim­i­larly mys­te­ri­ous beauty about them. They catch the eye with their iri­des­cent sil­ver, aqua­ma­rine and black colour­ing and a sleek, stream­lined bul­let shape that en­ables them to zoom through

‘In the 17th cen­tury there was a spe­cial law al­low­ing fish­mon­gers in Billings­gate to sell mack­erel on Sun­days, when all other trade was for­bid­den be­cause their high oil con­tent means they need to be eaten as soon as pos­si­ble af­ter land­ing.’

GOAN-STUFFED MACK­EREL WITH KACHUM­BER

AND LIME WEDGES

The co­conut-based stuff­ing and zingy salad blend su­perbly with the oily flesh of the fish.

F&T WINE MATCH

Packed with stone fruit

(eg 2015 Mill­ton River­point Vine­yard Gewürz­traminer, Gis­borne, New Zealand)

RECIPES START ON PAGE 117

the wa­ter like guided mis­siles. On their backs, the dark, curved mark­ings bear a re­sem­blance to Maori warrior tat­toos.

They are pelagic fish that swim in large shoals in a range that ex­tends from the Black Sea and Mediter­ranean to the north of Nor­way and Ice­land, and from Labrador down to Cape Hat­teras. They hunt small fish near the sur­face in shal­low wa­ter dur­ing the sum­mer (hence the say­ing ‘set a sprat to catch a mack­erel’) and when win­ter ap­proaches, they leave for deep wa­ter to al­most hi­ber­nate.

Re­lated species in­clude king mack­erel, found in sub­trop­i­cal seas from North Carolina to Brazil and the Ara­bian Gulf to Ja­pan. Chub mack­erel is a smaller species with more del­i­cate mark­ings and big­ger eyes – hence the Si­cil­ian name oc­chi grossi – fished from the In­dian Ocean to the Pa­cific. The third main sib­ling in the ex­ten­sive fam­ily is Span­ish mack­erel, caught in waters from Cape Cod to Mex­ico and across the Pa­cific.

There were once vast quan­ti­ties of mack­erel off the coast of Corn­wall be­fore over-fish­ing al­most wiped them out in the 1970s. Hun­dreds of tonnes of indis­crim­i­nately trawled fish were dumped straight into the holds of East­ern bloc fac­tory ships. It was like the Klondike gold rush and al­though the re­wards were rich in the short term, in the long run it al­most dec­i­mated the tra­di­tional re­gional fish­ery.

How­ever, care­ful stock man­age­ment and tighter reg­u­la­tions in the past two decades have re­versed the de­cline. In­dus­trial fish­ing for the species is now banned in Cor­nish waters and the fish are caught from small boats us­ing han­d­lines, a se­lec­tive and low-im­pact method that also en­forces a min­i­mum land­ing size.

The sea­son starts in late au­tumn, a time when the Ja­panese be­lieve they are at their best, just as they’re fat­ten­ing up for win­ter. When sparklingly fresh from the sea, still stiff with rigor mor­tis, mack­erel are a most ex­cel­lent fish, nei­ther too fatty or too bland. The aroma should be light and rem­i­nis­cent of fine green sea­weed: if even a lit­tle past their prime they can im­preg­nate the kitchen with a cer­tain aroma that will never ri­val Chanel No.5.

At their best, the fish are del­i­cate but firm and rich with a slight min­eral tang, so a lit­tle goes a long way. The bones are easy to sep­a­rate from the flesh, and they are also one of the health­i­est fish to eat, highly nu­tri­tious in vi­ta­mins and min­er­als, in par­tic­u­lar omega-3 fatty acids.

Both fil­leted and whole, mack­erel are pretty easy to cook, need­ing lit­tle more than a squeeze of lemon. The oily flesh is bal­anced by gen­er­ous amounts of nat­u­ral juice but it is prob­a­bly best to avoid too much cream or but­ter. They do, how­ever, pair ex­ceed­ingly well with a clas­sic as­trin­gent sauce such as goose­berry, rhubarb or cran­berry. The acid­ity of toma­toes and the sharp­ness of mus­tard also suit the fish. They are re­mark­ably ver­sa­tile and can be used in a wide range of dishes from cur­ries to stir-fries. They smoke well and make ex­cel­lent pâté or can be fil­leted and soused like her­rings or pick­led in white wine.

We should cel­e­brate the hum­ble mack­erel. If noth­ing else, they have brought us an ex­cel­lent pre-water­shed ex­ple­tive. ‘Holy mack­erel, Bat­man!’ as the boy won­der would say to his caped cru­sader in times of cri­sis. ‘Holy salmon!’ just doesn’t have the same POW!

‘When sparklingly fresh from the sea, still stiff with rigor mor­tis, mack­erel are a most ex­cel­lent fish, nei­ther too fatty or bland. The aroma should be light and rem­i­nis­cent of fine green sea­weed’

RECIPES

START ON PAGE 117

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