One of the many things I’ve missed about Spain in our two months over here is the availability of fresh fish at a price that doesn’t require a second mortgage. We’ve picked up the occasional ‘yellow sticker’ bargain, but nothing beats the taste of really fresh fish, so when our neighbour Rob went off in his boat and came back with so many mackerel he did a tour of our caravan park with them, I was absolutely delighted. He’d even done the mucky bit for me, so he’s my new super hero.
There are many ways of cooking mackerel, but most of them leave me with indigestion, which is why I never order it in restaurants. I’m not a fan of smoked fish either, so I’m rather difficult to please when it comes to mackerel. However, I have a tried and tested method which I first came across 35 years ago, while on holiday in a hotel in Perranporth, Cornwall. The owners organised a fishing trip for interested guests, and since mackerel are so keen on being caught they practically throw themselves at you, there was enough for everyone to have an impromptu late supper in the bar, to soak up some of the cider we’d been drinking all night. I explained to the hotel owner that I couldn’t eat it as it gave me indigestion, and she said she’d been cooking it her way for about 20 years, and never had one complaint of digestive discomfort, so I said I’d give it a go.
‘Her way’ was indeed the best way for me to eat mackerel – and I’ve enjoyed it cooked like this many times since then. A few of our friends here on the caravan park have never heard of cooking mackerel this way, so I thought maybe I should share the recipe with my readers. As an oily fish, mackerel is a great source of Omega-3, so it’s good for your heart and your general health. And it’s cheap, whether you buy it here in England, or in Spain, where it’s called ‘caballa.’ If you like fishing like our friend Rob, it’s absolutely free. Here’s how to cook mackerel my way:
- Gut and clean the fish, and remove the heads and tails, then slit them open, and place in a large oven proof dish. Allow 1 – 2 fish per person, according to size and appetite. There’s no need to remove the backbone, as it will lift out easily, along with the smaller bones, when the fish is cooked.
- Season the fish with freshly ground black pepper, add a bay leaf, a few sprigs of fresh parsley, and enough milk to just cover the fish. It doesn’t matter whether it’s skimmed, semi-skimmed or full fat milk, as it will be discarded when the fish is served. The cooking liquid serves to draw out the excess oil from the fish, leaving it moist and full of flavour.
- Cover the dish with foil, and cook in a hot oven for around 20 – 30 minutes, depending on the size of the fish and the efficiency of the oven. One advantage of cooking it this way is that it’s almost impossible to overcook it.
- If you don’t have an oven, you can do this in a large, heavy-bottomed frying pan on the hob or a camping stove, if you’re on the move. Remember to cover with a lid or foil to prevent the cooking liquid from being absorbed by the fish.
- To serve, lift the fish carefully from the cooking liquid and garnish with fresh parsley. You really don’t need a sauce with it, as it is lovely and moist. We served ours with buttered new potatoes and fresh garden peas, but it’s good with a salad as well.
Mackerel my way makes a quick, healthy lunch or supper which is low in fat and easy to digest. And if you hate waste, you can use the cooking liquid as the base for a fish soup or the sauce for a fish pie. Try it, and let me know how you get on. Buen provecho!