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The mackerel is the greyhound of the sea. Travelling 100m in 11 seconds, your average mackerel would not be far behind Usain Bolt in a fairly run race. Given their body length of around 25cm compared with the athlete’s stride of more than 2m, that is an impressive piece of swimming. It is not surprising that they have such an extraordinarily sleek and purposeful body shape.
However, this athleticism doesn’t seem to be helping them much. More and more mackerel are getting caught. We used to worry about Spanish boats taking all the mackerel out of the Bay of Biscay and the English Channel but the situation has changed. Due to global warming, mackerel appear to have moved north. Countries that used to ignore it as beneath their consideration, but who have massive fishing fleets – step forward, Iceland, Norway and the Faroes – are now helping themselves to the fish in huge numbers. Attempts to persuade them to confine their catches to sustainable levels have been rebuffed and, as Mr Chamberlain might have said, I am sorry to say a state of war exists between these countries and the rest of the EU in this regard.
There are still huge quantities of mackerel but if it continues to be fished at current levels, it will become endangered. It seems unreasonable to boycott our fishing fleet’s very modest harvest as a result. What makes this especially galling is that those of us who have been extolling the mackerel for years have seen our efforts rewarded: it has achieved the sort of elevation on the social scale previously enjoyed by cod. Once you couldn’t give it away; now mackerel has become very popular, partly fuelled by its reputation for omega-3 fatty acids and for being, therefore, as Bertie Wooster would have opined, awfully good for the brain.
Rowley Leigh is the chef at Le Café Anglais
Mackerel teriyaki, cucumber salad
Classically, teriyaki sauce is added towards the end of the cooking process to produce a lustrous glaze and enrich the flavour of the fish. Since the cooking time of the mackerel is so short – especially if the fish is to be really succulent – I marinade in the sauce before cooking as well as during. Teriyaki is made by mixing soy sauce with mirin, saki and sugar. Recipes sometimes add ginger, garlic and orange juice. I am afraid I am very happy with a shop-bought brand that is always in my store cupboard. Recipe for six.
6 good fat mackerel, weighing 250-300g each
100ml teriyaki sauce (see above)
2 tsp sea salt
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp white wine vinegar
1 tbs sunflower oil
● To fillet the fish, place it on a board with the head away from you. Run a very sharp knife down one side of the backbone, just as far as the tail. Turn the fish over and repeat the process, running this time from tail to head, on the other side. Cut down behind the gills on either side to remove the head and then continue your cuts through the backbone to reveal the belly cavity. Discard the guts and rinse the fillets in cold water. Continue to “butterfly” all the fish in this fashion.
● Lay the fillets on the board, cut away the ribcage and separate the two fillets. Finding the pinbones (the tiny bones radiating from the spine at right angles in the upper part of the body), cut down on either side of them in a V-shaped channel and lift them out. Rinse and dry the fillets on kitchen paper. Place 2 tablespoons of the teriyaki sauce in a dish and lay the fillets, skin side down, on top, then brush the exposed flesh with more sauce.
● Top and tail and peel the cucumbers. Continue to peel the cucumbers, taking great long ribbons, rotating them evenly and leaving the central seedy stalk. Place these ribbons in a colander with the salt and sugar, mix well and leave to macerate for one hour.
● Heat a flat griddle plate or pan until quite hot. Lay a sheet of greaseproof paper on top and brush with a little sunflower oil. Lay the mackerel fillets skin side down and sear on the high heat. They should caramelise and blacken slightly. Turn the fish over – the paper should prevent sticking – brush with the sauce and then remove immediately from the griddle. They should be slightly undercooked in the middle but will cook through with their own heat.
● Gently squeeze any residual moisture from the cucumbers and dress with the vinegar. Serve the mackerel fillets with a tablespoon of the teriyaki sauce and a little pile of cucumber. Serve with rice if this is the main course.
Rowley’s drinking choice
The rich and oily fish demands a wine of high acidity to cut the fat. Riesling will always serve but a big, well-fruited Sauvignon Blanc, perhaps from New Zealand, is ideal.