Casting call: Try Spanish mackerel

March 1, 2012 12:01 am
  • Spanish mackerel at the Penn Avenue Fish Co. in the Strip District.
    Spanish mackerel at the Penn Avenue Fish Co. in the Strip District.
  • Spanish mackerel nigiri with pickled ginger and wasabi.
    Spanish mackerel nigiri with pickled ginger and wasabi.
  • A Spanish mackerel at the Penn Avenue Fish Co. in the Strip District.
    A Spanish mackerel at the Penn Avenue Fish Co. in the Strip District.
  • This mackerel was too big for the pan, but the result -- Roasted Mackerel with Harissa and Limes -- was delicious.
    This mackerel was too big for the pan, but the result -- Roasted Mackerel with Harissa and Limes -- was delicious.
  • Spanish Mackerel with Meyer Lemon Escabeche is quick, easy and
nutritious.
    Spanish Mackerel with Meyer Lemon Escabeche is quick, easy and nutritious.
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People can be funny when it comes to eating fish.

You want a fillet to taste vaguely of the ocean so as to distinguish it from meat or chicken. But at the same time, it shouldn't be too . . . fishy.

No wonder, then, that mackerel doesn't much figure in when people are figuring out what to cook during the six-week Lenten season.

Blessed (or some may say cursed) with rich, full-bodied meat, mackerel is one of your oilier fishes. That translates into a fillet that's more assertive tasting than Alaskan salmon or Icelandic cod. That is, if you're eating small Atlantic (Boston) mackerel, or the giant king mackerel, which can reach 100 pounds and is such a voracious eater that the fish sometimes can be seen leaping out of the water in pursuit of prey.

Not so with the mid-sized Spanish mackerel, a species that can be found from Cape Cod to North Carolina to the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

It's got the same razor-sharp teeth and silvery skin as its larger brethren, along with beautiful yellow spots on its iridescent blue-green skin, but the taste is much, much milder. So much so that even those who normally only will take a chance on fish that is white, flaky and delicate-tasting might ask for seconds and maybe even thirds after they sample it for the first time.

That's right: I liked the Spanish mackerel escabeche that Penn Avenue Fish Co. owner/chef Henry Dewey prepared for me in hopes of changing my mind about fishier-tasting fish. So much so that I made it again for my husband that same night -- and had the leftovers for breakfast the next morning.

I also really enjoyed a piece of roasted Spanish mackerel dipped in ponzu sauce, and discovered I could eat a raw slice of it on top of rice as nigiri without, you know, gagging. It was surprisingly clean and pleasant-tasting for raw fish.

"I can't believe the bad rap it gets," says Chef Dewey, who remembers fishing for it on the Gulf of Mexico as a child. "But once people taste it, it's like, 'Ooooh, mackerel!'"

"It's a solid, all-around good fish," agrees Tim Reynolds, one of the Strip District store's fishmongers. "Any time we get it in, all of us get really excited."

Spanish mackerel is one of the most commonly caught species off the Southeast coast, yet it still accounts for just a small percentage of total mackerel landings in the United States. That may explain why it's difficult to find the fish on local menus, other than as an occasional daily special, and why it's not often included in mainstream cookbooks.

Combine horseradish and yogurt in a bowl. Season the mixture with salt and black pepper. Mix the mustard with the lemon juice and vinegar, and stir in the lemon zest. Add this mixture to the yogurt.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lay the mackerel in a roasting pan, then mix the harissa paste with half the oil. Drizzle this over the fish, making sure the mackerel are covered inside and out. Add the limes to the pan, then toss the potatoes with the remaining oil and add them to the pan, too.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.


First Published 2012-03-01 00:21:06

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