One of the many outcomes of my particularly fragrant summer spent living the life of a fishmonger, (apart from a distinct diminution in jumper supplies after sacrificing the vast majority due to a very stubborn fish gut aroma- no way to make friends), was my slightly misguided dislike of mackerel. I know it sounds strange, and a loathing of 4am starts or spending significant amounts of time embedded elbow deep in giant barrels of ice would have been somewhat more appropriate, but no, it was the knock-you-between-the-eyes iron rich pong and slippery brown guts of the mackerel that got it.
I know, I know; with skin boasting delicate metallic patterns that would not look out of place on the catwalk, more health claims than the contents of many a super-model’s fridge, and boasting a price-tag about ten thousand times smaller than what Kate Moss demands just to put her slippers on; it is a crying shame that my eye, as it skips effortlessly from coral pink salmon fillet to bright red tuna steak, overlooks the oily, silver skinned gem of the fish counter time after time. So many mealtimes have been spent unassumingly missing out on all that iron-rich, versatile deliciousness, and now it has finally gone on long enough, I can no longer live on kale and spinach alone. Yes, my diminishing bank balance and desire for swishy, shiny hair without dishing out for a salon hair treatment, finally dictated earlier this week that it was time to face my fishy-fear.
Purposefully striding up to the fish counter, pocketing a packet of peppered smoked mackerel (try saying that in a hurry), I left with big plans for a giant bowl of something fishy and a conquering of the fear that has kept my iron intake down for so long. Now my hatred does have some exceptions, a big one being the old classic; soft, smoked fish disguised as a creamy mound of delicious, horseradish rich pate, sprinkled with capers, a smattering of cracked black pepper and just waiting to be spread on warm granary toast dripping with butter. Piled into a mismatching line-up of chipped ramekins, teacups, jam jars, etc. I have to admit that in this form, I have always had a bit of a soft spot for this silver swimmer. Talk about fickle...
But on this occasion, having neither the friends (sniff) nor the requisite lycra leggings and matching scrunchie combo to face recreating a 80’s dinner party on a school night, I wanted to try something different. Now I still went smoked, let’s not swim before we can paddle here, but I stepped away from the cream cheese and whipped up this super-quick, fresh and zingy Sicilian style smoked mackerel, sultana and olive spaghetti in no time. And, lo and behold, my trips to the fish counter will never be the same again.
Yup, as you may have predicted...
Mackerel. Is. Awesome.
And eating it like this almost sets it off the scale. Rich with super-ripe tomatoes, contrasted with a little sweetness from the plump sultanas and enough zesty lemon to cut through the oily smokiness of the fish, this dish made me see this slippery little character in a whole new light. A healthy, fresh midweek dinner, it’s the perfect way to use up leftovers lurking in the depths of the fridge too; chuck in those olives left over from Saturday night in front of the World Cup, a splash of white wine (if you have any knocking around after the tension experienced throughout said football match...), capers, chilli, toasted pine nuts. The list is endless. Just maybe leave that half can of Stella out on this occasion...
PS. Although my new fish de jour, mackerel is no longer considered as sustainable as it once was due to over-fishing, now gracing the ‘eat with caution’ list, denoting that it should only be eaten every so often. But stick to that, and every once in a while this super-fish, whether subtly smoked or freshly filleted and thrown on to the BBQ with a good smattering of rosemary and lemon sea salt, is not only cheap enough to leave enough in your pocket for a nice bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, but unbelievably tasty too. I am converted. I may even go fresh next time...
Lemony mackerel spaghetti with sultanas and olives, serves 2
200g wholemeal spaghetti
Olive or extra virgin rapeseed oil
A splash of white wine
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 red onion, finely sliced
A large handful ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tbsp tomato puree
A small handful black olives
A small handful sultanas or raisins
1 or 2 fillets smoked mackerel torn into chunks
Small handful fresh oregano, torn
Small handful of chopped almonds, to serve
First, boil the spaghetti in salted water, leaving to cook for 10-12 minutes while you are making the sauce, until al dente.
In a small frying pan, gently fry the onion and garlic in the oil, until translucent. Add the chopped fresh tomatoes and fennel seeds, and fry gently for a few more minutes until the tomatoes begin to soften.
Add a splash of wine and leave the sauce to bubble gently for a few minutes. Stir in the tomato puree, the olives and sultanas, season and leave to reduce until you have a thick sauce (loosen with a little water from the pasta if it is getting too thick!)
Stir in the mackerel, the juice and zest of half a lemon, and the torn oregano.
Stir the pasta through the sauce, adding a glug of oil and a spoonful of the pasta water to loosen and sprinkle over some of the chopped almonds. DONE.