"Which way soever they be dressed and eaten, they stir and cause a filthy loathsome stinking wind within the body, thereby causing the belly to be pained and tormented, and are a meat more fit for swine than men."
John Gerard [quoting botanist, John Goodyer, on Jerusalem artichokes] (1621)
Judging by the date on the page I printed for this recipe and filed in my folder of "to-do" recipes, I've apparently been waiting more than 12 years "to-do" it. I'm sorry I waited so long. I like this dish - but then there's no surprise there - I like any dish that partners mackerel with pickled stuff or one that just has the mackerel itself pickled.
In the noughties I used to be an avid watcher of a programme called "Market Kitchen" that was aired on a channel called "UKTV Food" and which no longer exists (in fact, their website, as-was, seems no longer to be available either so I can't provide a link to the original recipe). A chef called Ollie Rowe was a regular contributor and the recipe here is more or less one of his.
The main difference is that he includes finely sliced Jerusalem (f)artichokes in the salad which I have replaced with cucumber, not just because the former are seldom in season when I can get hold of mackerel but also because they have a certain well-known effect on the digestive system that can tend to scare the pants off some (literally!). And judging by the quote above this is anything but a new phenomenon!
With the cucumber in place of the Jerusalem artichokes I will definitely be making this again. It's a superb summer starter, or a fish course. But for a light main, just add a second fillet of mackerel.
When Ollie Rowe (or, rather, his recipe) says the level of difficulty here is "easy", it would be completely true were it not for the fact that the recipe contains chervil, a notoriously difficult herb to get hold of. Having now grown chervil in my balcony herb garden for a couple of years I've overcome this particular difficulty and am now almost smug in my enjoyment of finding recipes which make use of it. However, in this particular case, with some pretty punchy ingredients to contend with, its delicate flavour has but a subtle contribution and it can therefore be substituted by something a bit more assertive. Dill would be excellent, as would tarragon (in smaller quantities), but consider parsley and mint as well. Or try a mixture of these soft herbs.
The soured cream is more than just a blob of garnish here - it's really integral to the composition of the dish. If soured cream is not available, just squeeze a little lemon juice into some double cream.
Served as a starter a single mackerel fillet per person will suffice. For a light main a second fillet should be added. The quantity of pickled onion should be about right in either case.
Grilled Mackerel Fillet, Cucumber and Pickled Onions
Ingredients (serves 2)
2 or 4 mackerel fillets (see recipe intro)
60ml cider or white wine vinegar
Large pinch ground of ground allspice
½ onion, thinly sliced
1 tbsp picked chervil leaves (or alternative, see recipe intro)
¼ cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced
Sunflower or vegetable oil
Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Soured cream, to serve (see recipe intro)
In a bowl mix together the vinegar, honey and allspice. Add the finely sliced onions, cover and leave to steep in the fridge overnight. The next day, drain and reserve a couple of tablespoons of the pickling liquor.
Heat a ridged grill pan (or frying pan) until smoking hot. Brush the mackerel fillets with the oil and season with the salt and pepper on the flesh side and only with salt on the skin side. Grill the fish skin side down for 1-2 minutes until nicely charred, then turn over and switch off the heat. Leave for 30 seconds and remove from the pan.
Toss the pickled onions and the cucumber slices in the reserved pickling liquor, then stir in the picked chervil leaves (or alternative).
To serve, spoon the cucumber and pickled onions onto serving plates, place the mackerel fillets alongside and serve with a dollop of the soured cream.
"Grilled Mackerel Fillet with Pickled Onions", Ollie Rowe, UKTV Food, link now unavailable, last accessed 26 February 2008: http://goodfood.uktv.co.uk/recipe/grilled-mackerel-fillet-with-pickled-onions