Sometimes this happens to me: I go to a store with a few firm ideas of what I need, but then I get distracted and come out with things completely different from what I planned to get. Which can make shopping difficult. Like the other day.
Our local Asian market has a great abundance of fresh fish, with an extremely quick turnover. There are no local seafood markets here, and at any other shop I previously visited, the fish usually has a somewhat withered, unappetizing look. As if it has been in the open air for a day or few too long. At commercial chain supermarkets there is almost never a smell by the fish counter. Everything is sanitized, antiseptic, filleted, prepackaged. Only once you get home and put your nose to a flaccid fillet, you get a whiff of that fishy almost-but-not quite rotting smell.
But when I walk past the large fish counter at the Asian market, the smell just lures me. It smells like the sea. Like seaweed. Like lake water. Like the skin of the fish you’ve just caught. The smell is strong, overwhelming, and to me, irresistible. The counter is lined with fish and shellfish of all sorts. Except for very large fish, most is not filleted; they do it on request.
Among the dozens of fish lining the ice counter, my husband spots mackerel. Its silver and black striped back oily, plump. Knowing what it tastes like raw from sushi (it’s his favorite), he is tempted. Apart from raw, I only had mackerel smoked, never cooked. In fact, in many cuisines it is served smoked or salted, to preserve it as the tender flesh of the fish is prone to spoiling. There are a few exceptions, like the British who sometimes like to have it cooked fresh. So we get the fish, a few other random items (dragon fruit, white bitter melon, lychee berries), and leave without bothering to look for what we came in for originally.
When we get home I know I want to cook it whole. There is a break in the heatwave which only lasts a day or two, so in the oven it goes.
We have it with a knob of anchovy butter (consisting of unsalted butter with chopped anchovies with an herb or spice or two mixed in). Mackerel itself is a rather oily fish, rich in omega-3s. The taste is very flavorful and reminds me of herring. As a result, the salty, tangy and wonderfully fishy butter combined with the moist flesh of this fatty fish melts apart in your mouth, producing a sensation so satisfying it could only be compared to how one feels after a satisfying physical activity of a slightly different sort. Like jogging.
This well-buttered fish can be complemented by a simple vegetable side dish, such as baby zucchini and cherry tomato sauté.
Baked Mackerel with Anchovy Butter
For the fish, you will need:
1 lb (450 g) whole mackerel, gutted & cleaned
juice of 1/2 lemon (about 1 tbsp)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
2 tsp chopped fresh basil
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground black pepper
a splash of white wine (1 to 2 tsp)
For the anchovy butter, you will need:
2 oz (56 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 anchovy fillets, finely chopped
1/2 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp finely chopped parsley
1. Preheat oven to 400ºF (205ºC). In a small bowl whisk together lemon juice, olive oil, parsley, basil, salt and pepper. Rinse the fish and pat dry. Place on a plate or a cutting board and pour the marinade over the fish, rubbing it all over including inside the cavity.
2. Place the fish in the middle of a sheet of parchment paper large enough to wrap it. Drizzle 1 to 2 tsp of white wine over the fish. Holding the edges of the parchment paper, roll the edges together to form seal around the fish. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes. The fish is done when the skin is slightly crispened and the flesh flakes off the bone.
2. While the fish bakes, prepare the anchovy butter. In a small bowl, mix together softened butter (butter should be soft enough to mix it with ease but not melted), anchovies, lemon juice and chopped parsley. Cover and refrigerate until serving.
3. To serve the fish, remove from parchment paper. Serve whole, or divided in half if serving two people, with a knob of chilled anchovy butter on top which will melt over the fish.
Zucchini and Cherry Tomato Sauté
You will need:
1 tbsp olive oil
1 small shallot, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup (135 g) chopped baby zucchini
1 cup (140 g) whole cherry tomatoes
1/4 cup (60 ml) white wine
1 tbsp chopped parsley
salt and pepper, to taste
Heat olive oil in a large pan on medium heat. Add shallot and sauté until fragrant and softened, 2-3 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Add zucchini and tomatoes, and sauté for 5 minutes until vegetables begin to soften. Add the white wine and cook for 7-10 minutes more, until the zucchini is cooked through and tomatoes are softened. Stir in parsley and season to taste with salt and pepper before serving.