"The Mediterranean has the colour of mackerel, changeable I mean. You don't always know if it is green or violet, you can't even say it's blue, because the next moment the changing reflection has taken on a tint of rose or grey."
Vincent Van Gogh (1888)
Not long ago I came back from the market with a fairly hefty haul of mackerel that were being sold at a very attractive price. I love oily fish cured, soused, pickled etc. so set about looking for a new recipe of that style. This recipe really stood out to me as it also contains some of my favourite flavourings in green olives and celery. It comes from Tom Kerridge and was originally published in the "BBC Good Food" magazine of June 2016. Though it's a magazine I regularly buy this edition perhaps slipped through the net - I actually found the recipe online.
The recipe includes celery leaves which always open a door in my mind to question whether lovage, a herb that doesn't get a huge amount of coverage, may have its services to offer here. It undoubtedly does and if you happen to have access to lovage, and that would most likely be because you grow it in your herb garden, I do recommend putting it to use in this creation.
Celery or lovage, this is a super dish for a starter and one that has attained a firm spot in the repertoire.
It is the general case that I prefer smaller mackerel to larger ones - I find their flavour and texture rather more "well-adjusted", for want of a better description. As such, it would be my preference to use 2 small mackerel fillets per serving than 1 larger one. But that is no reason not to make this dish as the marinade is sufficiently assertive as to make any subtle differences in the mackerel rather insignificant.
The majority of the ingredients in what may look like a bit of a list go into the marinade so once that's been made, the rest of the recipe is very quick and easy. However, it does require an overnight marination period and does need to be brought to room temperature before finishing it off.
The garnishes are very much optional but the inclusion of the crème fraiche does, I find, have a balancing effect of the acidity of the dressing.
Marinated Mackerel, Green Olive & Celery Dressing
Ingredients (serves 2 as a starter)
4 small mackerel fillets (or 2 larger fillets, see recipe intro), pin-boned if possible
¼ tsp fennel seeds (for maximum flavour toast these in a hot frying pan for 30 seconds)
¾ tbsp flaky sea salt
75ml olive oil
2 small banana (echalion) shallots, peeled and finely sliced
Juice of quarter of a lemon
75ml red wine vinegar
¾ tbsp caster sugar
6 green olives, pitted and halved, or coarsely chopped if large
1 celery stick, finely sliced on the diagonal
½ tsp chopped celery (or lovage) leaves
To serve (optional):
2 lemon wedges
Chives, finely chopped
Lay the mackerel fillets, skin side down, in a shallow dish and evenly spread over the flesh the fennel seeds and flaky sea salt. Cover with cling film and leave in the fridge for 1 hour, then remove and wash off the fennel seeds and salt and pat the fillets dry with kitchen paper.
Return the fillets to the dish, this time skin side up, pour over the olive oil and scatter over the sliced shallots. In a small saucepan, bring the lemon juice, vinegar and sugar to the boil, lower the heat and simmer until the sugar has dissolved. Pour the liquid over the fish and leave to cool. Cover and refrigerate to marinate overnight.
The next day, remove the dish of mackerel from the fridge for 1 hour before serving. Remove the fillets from the marinade and transfer them to a plate. Add the green olives and celery to the marinade along with the the chopped celery (or lovage) leaves and let infuse for 5-10 mins.
Put the fish on two serving plates, spoon over and around the olives, celery and shallots, then drizzle the marinade/dressing on top. If using, serve with a lemon wedge on each plate plus a dollop or two of crème fraiche garnished with chopped chives.
"Marinated mackerel with green olive & celery dressing", BBC Good Food, website accessed 11 September 2021