What's not to like about the mackerel? An excellent swimmer, sleek and stripy, it cuts through seas with great ease. Firm-fleshed, full of flavour and to crown it all, just packed with those all-important Omega-3 fatty acids, mackerel swim in large shoals in many waters. Our own Indian relative of this species goes by the formidable official name, Rastrelliger kanagutra, which is none other than the modest, much-loved Aiyla, or Bangada. Immortalized as Bangada Fry, crisped skin covering moist, firm chunks of flesh in a mixture of spices; the mackerel can also be grilled, baked, steamed, or marinated in thin slices. A generous concentration of oils means that it lends itself extremely well to smoking – a filet of smoked, peppered mackerel is as perfect a fish as any that you can get on your plate.
An invitingly plump mackerel – have you ever seen a skinny one? – can be turned into an immensely pleasurable meal without much effort. There is a recipe for a Genoese Style Baked Mackerel from a volume of Marcella Hazan's Italian Cooking series that I have used so many times, that I almost feel I invented it. I certainly did not, but as the date on the front page of the book indicates, I have been cooking it for over twenty-two years, which has created this sense of ownership. The beauty of this recipe has everything to do with the disproportionate relationship between the ease of preparation and the results. I have always loved the slightly meaty taste of this fish, but equally, resented having to grapple with quantities of sharp bones. The filets in the recipe do away with this problem. You would need to persuade your fishmonger to do a good job of de–boning the fish, leaving the shiny skin on. To complement its firm flesh and rich flavours, there's a brilliant combination of potatoes, parsley, garlic and olive oil. A short spell in the oven, and then your fork plunges through dense and flavourful filets free of annoying bones, down to a layer of garlic-scented potatoes. Crisped at the edges, and slightly charred from clinging to the base of the dish, they add a velvety texture to the fish, all wrapped up in the gentle but persistent flavours of parsley and garlic. And then there's silence, and long, long mouthfuls of satisfaction. Personally, I can't think of too many better ways of getting those all-important Omega-3 oils.
This recipe has been adapted from Marcella Hazan's Second Italian Cookbook. Mad About Mackerel was published in the Deccan Chronicle.
Image Credits: K.P.Ponnapa