Affordable luxury of mackerel

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Even cookery writers are coming to the crunch. Recession recipes are the dishes of the day. The heart sinks as one wades through new ways with mince, chicken drumsticks and coley – all rather unnecessary since those of us who really enjoy food know that price and value have no correspondence.

If I look at the ingredients that I cajole you to cook, they are rarely particularly expensive. I readily admit that they may not easily be found but that is a different issue. Look at my recent entreaties: partridge, cabbage, oysters, ceps, greengages, sweetcorn, squash, celery. With the exception of ceps – which can be foraged for nothing but are otherwise very expensive – there is nothing that will break the bank. I cannot remember when I gave a recipe for fillet steak or foie gras or lobster or caviar. Truffles, the one luxury I really would find it hard to live without, I ration to perhaps one recipe a year.

All good food is a luxury. To our ancestors, cream and butter were every bit as luxurious as foie gras is to us now. A good chicken is undeniably a luxury and is far from cheap. If we need to economise, the solution is not to eat cheap chicken – imagine what sort of bird the economy pack of chicken drumsticks might come from – but to eat it less often.

Today’s recipe features mackerel. Were mackerel rare, it would be expensive and feature on three-star restaurant menus. It isn’t, it doesn’t and we can therefore enjoy this affordable luxury. Not everyone can fillet it, however, and, while a good fishmonger will be able to do the job, a good fishmonger is hard to find. In the end, it may be better to acquire the skill yourself: fresh fish and a very sharp knife are the only essential requirements.

Lay the fish on its side and run a sharp knife down one side of the backbone just to the halfway point where the bones meet the spine. Turn the fish over and repeat the process, running the knife down the other side of the backbone, as close to the bone as possible. Now manipulate the knife over the spine and cut through into the belly of the fish on each side, removing the fillets completely and leaving the guts attached to the skeleton, which can now be discarded. Rinse the fillets in cold water and cut away any rib bones still attached. Now run a little channel down each side of the little lateral bones running down from the head and remove them without cutting through to the skin.

Rowley Leigh is the chef at Le Café Anglais
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Seared mackerel fillets with apple purée, rosemary and pine kernels

Most people are tempted to add a bit of sugar to the apple purée: resist, for the sharpness of the purée is the perfect complement to the rich, oily flesh of the mackerel.

4 large mackerel, about 400g-450g in weight
4 tbs olive oil
1 tbs pine kernels
2 tsp rosemary leaves
2 Bramley apples
½ cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
10 cloves
1 dsp sea salt flakes

● Toast the pine kernels under a hot grill until golden brown. Gently warm the olive oil with the rosemary, add the pine kernels and allow to cool and infuse for 30 minutes. Peel and quarter the apples and remove cores. Chop roughly and place in a small saucepan with 4 tbs water, cinnamon, bay leaf and cloves (I just crumble in the heads of the cloves and reject the stalks). Place on gentle heat and simmer until the apple has disintegrated. Remove the cinnamon and bay leaf and whisk the purée until smooth.

● Sprinkle the sea salt flakes over the surface of a large nonstick frying pan and place on a high heat. Place the mackerel fillets skin side down on the hot salt and press down on them to stop the fillets curling. Turn the heat down slightly and cook the fillets on their skin side until you can see the heat has penetrated halfway through the fillet. Turn the fillets at this point and just seal the flesh side very briefly. The mackerel should remain pink and undercooked in the middle.

● Warm the purée and put 2 tbs on each plate. Place fillets skin side up atop the purée and spoon the pine kernels and rosemary.

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