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.
Baked Mackerel With Potatoes, Genoese Style.
- 16 x10 inch cast iron enamelled baking dish or similar ovenproof dish
- 6-7 Fillets Mackerel Mackerel fillets with the skin on
- 600-700 grams Potatoes Peeled
- 12 tbsp Olive Oil Less or more according to taste
- 6-8 Cloves Garlic peeled and chopped or lightly pounded
- 50 grams Fresh Parsley Chopped
- 1-2 tbsp Sea Salt As per taste
- 1-2 tbsp Black Pepper Freshly Ground
- 2 Cups Water
- Pre- heat oven to 230 C
- Peel the potatoes, and slice thinly. Wash and pat dry.
- Mix thoroughly, half of each of the following - olive oil, garlic and parsley with the potato slices. Add generous amounts of salt and pepper.
- Spread the seasoned potatoes evenly on the base of the ovenproof dish, place in the oven and bake for 10 -12 mins, until half-cooked.
- Remove from the oven when half done, and place the mackerel filets on the potatoes, skin side down.
- Mix the rest of the olive oil, parsley, garlic in a small bowl and pour over the mackerel filets, basting well.
- Season generously with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
- Return to the oven for 12-15 mins, until the fish is done, basting with the juices in the dish, halfway through.
- Serve hot, scraping the potatoes off the pan, and pouring the juices over the fish.