When mackerel make their annual appearance along the Maritime coast, fishermen of all ages and skill levels drop everything, grab their rods and jigs and rush to the nearest wharf to reel in this favourite local delicacy.
The seasonal treat is always a big hit, and traditionally it gets smoked, fried or grilled. Star chef Daniel Boulud, owner of some of the world’s most celebrated restaurants (DB Bistro Moderne, Café Boulud) has another take on it.
“People think of mackerel as a strong, fishy fish, but that’s not exactly true,” says the French chef, whose eponymous restaurant in Manhattan, Daniel, earned him three Michelin stars. “It has a more assertive character than, say, a delicate white fish like sole. But I think it also has a rich meatiness, rather like tuna.”
In this recipe from his 2006 cookbook Braise: A Journey through International Cuisine he gently cooks mackerel with yogurt, herbs, tomatoes and spices.
“It’s one of my favorites,” he says. “I reserve some of the yogurt marinade for the very end because I find that when you drizzle it or stir it into the mackerel just before eating, it lends a bit of freshness to the dish. You could serve this dish with regular or Israeli couscous.”
From Braise: A Journey through International Cuisine, by Daniel Boulud and Melissa Clark; HarperCollins; 2006.
Mackerel with Herb Curry
Makes 4 servings
4 Spanish mackerel fillets (about 2 pounds), skin on, small pinbones removed and each fillet cut on the bias into 4 pieces
1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
1 small bunch fresh cilantro, leaves only, plus additional for garnish
10 sprigs fresh mint, leaves only, plus additional for garnish
10 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley, leaves only, plus additional for garnish
11⁄2 teaspoons fresh dill leaves
6 fresh or dried curry leaves* (see note)
1 Kaffir lime leaf** (see note)
1 hot green chili pepper (such as jalapeño or serrano), seeds removed
Coarse sea salt or kosher salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 tablespoon peeled, chopped garlic
1 tablespoon finely grated peeled fresh ginger
1 bunch scallions, trimmed and cut into 1⁄4-inch-thick slices
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into 1⁄4-inch dice
4 plum tomatoes or 1 large beefsteak tomato, cut into 1⁄4-inch dice
1⁄4 cup canned or fresh tomato juice
Freshly squeezed juice of 2 limes
1. The day before you plan to serve this dish, arrange the mackerel in a large nonreactive bowl or Pyrex dish. Finely grate the zest of 1⁄4 orange, and juice both of the oranges. Using a blender, puree the yogurt, cilantro, mint, parsley, dill, curry leaves, Kaffir lime leaf, chili, two-thirds of the orange juice, and all of the orange zest until smooth. Season to taste with salt. Reserve 1⁄2 cup of the marinade in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Pour the remaining marinade over the mackerel. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and marinate overnight in the refrigerator.
2. Put a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 300°F.
3. In a small cast-iron pot or Dutch oven over medium heat, warm the vegetable oil. Add the cumin seeds, coriander seeds, and turmeric and toast until fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the scallions and red bell pepper and continue to cook for 8 to 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes, tomato juice, and the remaining orange juice; season to taste with salt, cayenne, and sugar (the sugar is to help balance the acidity of the tomatoes). Bring the mixture to a boil. Put the mackerel on top of the vegetables, cover, and transfer to the oven.
4. Braise until tender, about 30 minutes. Sprinkle the lime juice and the cilantro, mint, and parsley leaves over the fish. Serve with the reserved yogurt marinade on the side.
* Curry leaves: A small, glossy green leaf that resembles a bay leaf in both appearance and culinary usage, the curry leaf comes from citrus trees that grow in South Asia. Curry leaves add a savoury flavour, for which bay leaves can be an adequate though approximate substitute. Curry leaves are sold fresh and dried in Indian food stores, or you can order them online.
**Kaffir lime leaves: These sturdy, glossy green leaves are frequently used in Southeast Asian cuisine and are particularly common in Thai cooking. Typically they are used whole or slightly crushed. The bright citrus flavour is most intense when fresh rather than dried leaves are used. Kaffir lime leaves are available at Asian markets or online.