One of the best meals I ever ate was freshly caught mackerel barbecued on a beach in the west of Ireland. I was on a survival course at the time (that’s a whole other story) and the fish made a spectacular change from stewed nettles.
Time and place and atmosphere can play a big part in food memories – care for a madeleine, Mr Proust? – but a spanking fresh mackerel takes a bit of beating at any time. I’ve just re-read that sentence and it looks a bit suspect, but never mind.
Mackerel are as cheap as chips and they’re at their peak now. An old friend of mine in Ireland seems to be catching them constantly off the coast of Kerry, if his Facebook page is anything to go by. I got mine, rather more prosaically, in my local supermarket.
It’s a fatty fish so is often served with sharp fruits like gooseberries or rhubarb. This recipe originates, I think, in Italy and uses capers and tomatoes to cut through and complement the oiliness of the fish.
It’s a lovely summery dish, quick to make, colourful to look at and very tasty. Eat your heart out, Marcel, you can keep your cakes.
Barbecued Mackerel With Capers
Ingredients (for 2):
2 small mackerel
2 or 3 ripe tomatoes
A heaped tablespoon of capers, rinsed and drained
The juice of half a lemon
250g/80z new potatoes, cut into 2.5 cm/1 inch cubes
1 red pepper
1 yellow pepper
2 fat cloves of garlic, peeled
A slug of dry white wine
A tablespoon of chopped fresh parsley or chervil
Oil, salt and freshly ground black pepper
Light your barbecue (or heat your grill to high).
Cube the potatoes, deseed and chop the tomatoes and thinly slice the peppers and garlic. Heat a deep frying pan on top of the stove, add the oil and then the potatoes, peppers and garlic.
Fry for a minute or two, stirring to combine, then add a good glug of white wine and cook at a gentle simmer until the potatoes are cooked and the peppers are soft. When they’re done, stir through some chopped fresh parsley or chervil.
Meanwhile, slash the sides of the mackerel and season with salt and pepper. Place on the barbecue or under a hot grill and cook for about 4 minutes a side, or until cooked through.
Transfer to a dish and put the tomatoes and capers on top: depending on your timings, you may need to very gently heat these through but make sure you keep the freshness of the raw tomatoes.
If you cooked the fish in a grill pan, pour any pan juices over, squeeze the juice of half a lemon over it all and keep it warm until the potatoes and peppers are cooked.
Serve the mackerel with the potato and pepper mixture on the side. Eat. Discard bones.
Note: next time I cook this I’ll cut the potatoes into half inch dice and brown them lightly before adding the peppers, garlic and white wine. I’d probably also add some finely sliced, sauteed onions or shallot to the potato and pepper mixture.