This was one of the first proper things that I ever learned to cook, and the first time that I really appreciated how nice mackerel is. It is based on an old Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall recipe that appeared in the Guardian Weekend supplement for mackerel stuffed with salsa verde, but over the years I have tweaked the ingredients and turned it into a complete plate of food. Once practiced it is really easy to cook, and is great if cooking for a large amount of people as the main elements can be prepared well in advance.
Salsa verde is such a great accompaniment to so many things. It’s a sharp, strong sauce that is amazing with steak, lamb, fish (particularly oily fish), or with potatoes or steamed greens. I personally could just eat it out of the bowl with a spoon! You can tailor it to just how you like it by changing the herbs around, adding more lemons or mustard etc. until it’s just right. With this dish it balances so well with the oily mackerel and the sweetness of the pea puree.
Everyone that I’ve told about the grilled cucumber looks at me with a confused and bizarre expression, and until a few weeks ago I would have agreed. I used to only use cucumbers cold as a salad item or in a tzatziki, but I recently watched Ashley Palmer-Watts on the TV grilling a cucumber and I was intrigued. In this recipe, the chargrilled cucumber adds a refreshing touch to all of the other strong flavours, and helps balance everything out. I will definitely be trying it out with other recipes in the future.
As with all dishes involving fish, try and search out a local fishmonger that will provide you with really fresh fish. They will normally be cheaper and have a far wider selection than the supermarkets, and their survival keeps high streets looking independent and unique.
2 mackerel, filleted and pin boned
For the salsa verde:
1 large handful of parsley
3 sprigs basil leaves
3 sprigs mint
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tbsp capers, rinsed
1 pickled gherkin
2 anchovy fillets
1 tsp english mustard
1 lemon, juice only
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
Extra virgin olive oil,
Salt and pepper
For the pea puree:
300g frozen petit pois
1/2 bunch of mint leaves
1 lemon, juice only
1 knob butter
Salt and pepper
For the rest of the dish:
1/2 cucumber, skin cut off to create 2 3” rectangles
200g samphire, rinsed under cold water
1 knob of butter
Small glass of white wine
Pre-heat the oven to 200ºC and put a saucepan of salted water on to boil.
First make the salsa verde. Finely chop the herbs together, then add the anchovy, chopped garlic, capers and gherkin and chop everything again, mixing it all together with the knife. When everything is finely chopped and combined, transfer to a bowl and add the mustard, white wine vinegar, lemon juice and seasoning and mix. Finally add enough extra virgin olive oil to create a loose paste. Taste and adjust the vinegar, seasoning and lemon and set aside.
When the water has boiled add the peas and cook for a couple of minutes until just tender. Be careful not to overcook and lose the colour and flavour! Once cooked, transfer to a food processor with the mint, butter, lemon juice and seasoning. Blend to a smooth puree before tasting and setting aside somewhere warm. You could pass it through a sieve to make it extra fine if you like.
Lay out the pin-boned mackerel fillets on a chopping board skin-side down, and smear a good amount of the salsa verde down one of the two fillets of each fish. Lay the other fillet on top of the stuffed fillet and tie together with a couple of pieces of butchers twine. Put the mackerel packages aside until ready to cook.
When you are ready to go, heat up a heavy griddle pan on a medium-high heat, a small saucepan on a medium-high heat and a frying pan on a medium heat.
Season the mackerel and place on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper, drizzle with a little olive oil and put in the oven for 8 minutes.
While the fish is cooking, cook the samphire, the clams and the cucumber at the same time:
Add the butter to the frying pan and saute the samphire for a couple of minutes before adding the lemon juice and seasoning. Keep warm until the fish is ready.
When the saucepan is hot, add the white wine. When it starts to boil add the clams and put the top on the pan, shaking everything a couple of times. After a few minutes check the clams - they should be opening up. If not, replace lid and allow another minute or two. Once cooked take off the heat and keep warm.
Rub the cucumber rectangles with seasoning and olive oil and place on the hot griddle, turning every minute or so once nicely charred on each side.
To plate up, spoon a good dollop of pea puree on each plate and place the cucumber on top. Position the cooked fish on the cucumber and spoon a bit more salsa verde on top. Surround the fish with the samphire and the clams and serve with a glass of white wine.