Monday, January 12, 2009

Mackerel Two Ways: Butterflied Baked with Garlic and Paprika & Escabeche

At our house, we have a real thing for cheap kinds of fish like sardines and mackerel. It isn't because they're cheap that we love them, (although this ensures the love affair continues) but because, with a little bit of an idea about how to prepare these babies, they're often the tastiest, meatiest and healthiest fish you could ever eat. 

The Spaniards, Portuguese, Greeks and Italians know a lot about cooking these kinds of fish so there are countless tasty ways to prepare them. The texture is meaty and pleasantly oily and the flavour stronger than with your average white fish. Don't be put off though by your experience of the canned variety, because fresh fish is always a different kettle of, fish. Fresh mackerel is not something we find everyday here though, so when I saw them at the market the other day, I snapped up a couple of kilos (for under $12!) and decided that I'd prepare them two ways. Believe it or not, I cleaned, butterflied and filleted these myself, but I'm a sucker for learning about these kinds of things and if you've got a fish monger that is friendly, I'm sure they can take care of this for you. If you're feeling crazy, here are some good instructions for cleaning, and here are some for the rest. Go YouTube! Really, you can learn to do anything

The first lot we ate for lunch on the day I bought them (so fresh!), butterflied and baked very quickly, then dressed with extra virgin olive oil, finely chopped garlic, parsley and a generous sprinkle of Spanish smoked sweet paprika. With a delicious crunchy kind-of Greek salad and great bread for juices, it was delicious. If you're into these kinds of flavours - Spanish/Moorish/Middle Eastern - I can't recommend highly enough Sam and Samantha Clarke's book Moro, from which I stole this idea. It is one of the cookbooks I use most often. 

The second preparation, escabeche, is entirely different, in that the fish is gently pickled or marinated overnight in the refrigerator and served cold or at room temperature. The recipe was adapted (very slightly) from Frank Camorra's book Movida - a book that shares some of the  secrets of my favorite Melbourne restaurant. Note that owning this book, and even cooking from it, will not cure you of insane desire to eat there, all the time. But the fish - it keeps for a few days wrapped in the fridge: we pulled it out as a little tapa before dinner or light lunch over two or three days. The marinade made with wine and sherry vinegar, bay leaves and saffron is neither too vinegary or strong, but is deeply fragrant and kind of refreshing. It is a perfect dish for summer. 

In case you needed another reason to head to the market, mackerel is really a super-fish: it has lots of omega-3 (good fats) and vitamin B12 - good for your skin and just about everything else. Sometimes, at this time of the year (just after Christmas), those promises of healthfulness really get to me. But this, I'd eat anyway.  

Butterflied Baked Mackerel with Paprika and Garlic
From Sam and Sam Clarke's Moro
Serves 4 as a light lunch or first course. 
Notes: this fish could also be cooked on in a grill pan or or heavy frying pan. Also, a good substitute for mackerel here would be fresh, fat sardines.

3 tbsp olive oil
4 mackerel, cleaned and butterflied
3 small or 2 large garlic cloves, very finely chopped
A big handful of fresh parsley, chopped
2 tsp sweet smoked Spanish paprika (ahumado)
1 lemon
salt and pepper

Take a roasting tray big enough to hold your fish and pop it in the oven, while you preheat to 220˚C. When nice and hot, carefully pull it out and drizzle half the oil into the hot tray. Slide in the fish, skin side down (it will sizzle and begin to crisp up right away) and pop back in the oven for about 10 minutes, or until cooked through. 

Remove from the oven and immediately sprinkle with garlic, parsley and paprika. Drizzle with remaining olive oil and serve. So easy!

Mackerel Escabeche
Adapted from Frank Camora's Movida
Note: this could also be made with fresh, fat sardines

For the fish:
Around half a kilo of mackerel fillets
seasoned plain flour (to coat fish)
olive oil to shallow fry fish
fine sea salt

For the escabeche:
2 red onions
60ml extra virgin olive oil
4 bay leaves, preferably fresh
2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
pinch of saffron threads
2 large-ish carrots, julienned
125ml white wine vinegar
125ml Spanish sherry vinegar
250ml white wine
1 tbsp black peppercorns
1 large handful of flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped

To serve:
small handful of chopped continental parsley
extra olive oil to drizzle

Lightly coat fish fillets in seasoned flour. In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil and fry fillets until golden brown on both sides (Frank says around 3 minutes). Season each side with salt. Remove and drain on paper towel to absorb excess oil. 

To make the escabeche, cut onions into thinnish wedges. Heat olive oil into a heavy frying pan over low heat and add onion, bay leaves, garlic and saffron. Stir to combine, then cover and cook for around 15 minutes. The onions should not colour, but turn transluscent and sticky. Add the carrot, stir and cover again for another 15 minutes. When the carrot has slightly softened, add the vinegars, wine, peppercorns, 1 cup of water and 1 tsp of salt. Bring to a boil, then simmer until the marinade it fragrant and doesn't smell of alcohol - about 20 minutes. Remove from heat, cool and add parsley. 

Place fried fillets in a single layer in a large, non-metal dish (metal will react with marinade). Pour over the escabeche. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Serve the fillets the following day with a spoonful or two of the marinade and some vegetables on each. Sprinkle with fresh parsley and drizzle with extra oil. 


  1. Hello, I just discovered your blog and just wanted to say your recipes look simply delicious!

    I especially love this one because I've never thought to do anything with Mackerel and will be giving this a go on the weekend :-)

  2. Thank you! Do let me know how you go with the fish. I think I've stumbled onto your own blog before - Melbourne, yes?

  3. Yes I am the one in Melbourne. I made the baked mackerel tonight for dinner, couldn't wait till the weekend.. It was absolutely delicious, never knew mackerel could taste so good! Thanks for a great recipe :-)

  4. Am glad it was delicious! It really is a super-fish.

  5. My cousin recommended this blog and she was totally right keep up the fantastic work!

    Refrigerator Melbourne Australia

  6. Oh thanks! Am taking a short break (too much work on!), but will be back soon. Thanks for reading!


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