Sunday, 6 July 2014

Pan Fried Mackerel Fillet and Salsa on Wheat, Spelt and Rye Toast

Pan fried mackerel fillet and homemade salsa on wheat, spelt and rye toast

If there is one food category in which Scotland can truly boast world class produce it must surely be seafood. While Scotland's inshore in particular fish stocks have been decimated in recent years by over-fishing and by horrific, eco-unfriendly fishing practices, the crystal clear waters off the West coast still host some of the best fish and shellfish to be found anywhere on the planet. As a sea fisherman since childhood, I have caught and tried many of these sea creatures as fresh as can be but I genuinely don't love any of them more than the humble Atlantic mackerel. I know it is scorned by many - and often used only as bait by pleasure anglers! - but if you're looking for quality of taste, a fish that's easy to clean and cook, as well as a bundle of nutrition thrown in, you will struggle to do better.

Freshly caught mackerel

Mackerel swim in to Scottish inshore waters in the summer, generally from around June to September. This means that we have readiest access to them at their best when a whole host of summer fresh vegetables (and fruits!) are similarly available. This quick and easy dish sees a fresh mackerel fillet served on a salsa bed on wheat, spelt and rye toast. If you have never tried this incredibly tasty bread, I would strongly recommend it. I buy it freshly made from my local Morrisons and at the time of writing it costs £1.00 for a decent sized round loaf. Believe me, if you try it, you will find this represents value.

Wheat, spelt and rye bread

The tomatoes I'm afraid are not Scottish. Why? I have promised honesty and fair comparison in the header of this blog and this is one of those sad times when I cannot in good conscience recommend the Scottish option. These are Dutch tomatoes which were displayed side by side with Scottish tomatoes. The Scottish tomatoes were almost twice the price of the imported variety. Added to this the fact that I personally believe the imported tomatoes to be tastier (yes, that is my opinion), the decision as to which to buy was a no-brainer. So should I have paid almost twice the price for what I believe to be a slightly lesser quality product, simply in the name of buying local? Would you...???

Simple salsa principal ingredients

Ingredients (Serves One)

4 cherry tomatoes, seeded and diced
3 inch/7.5cm piece of cucumber, seeded and diced
1 large garlic clove, peeled and grated
6 medium basil leaves, rolled together and shredded
Good glug of extra virgin olive oil (plus extra for frying mackerel)
Salt and black pepper
1 fresh mackerel fillet (skin on)
2 tablespoons plain/all purpose flour
1 thick slice of wheat, spelt and rye bread

Combining salsa ingredients


Put the tomato, cucumber, garlic and basil in to a large glass bowl. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Stir well to combine. Ideally, this should be done a couple of hours in advance, the bowl covered with clingfilm and added to the fridge but it's not essential.

Fresh mackerel fillets

It may be that you buy your mackerel from your supermarket or fishmonger's already filleted and if so, that's fine. You can skip the next few paragraphs and move straight on to the cooking of the fish. If you've caught the mackerel yourself, however, or bought it whole, you will need to fillet it yourself. The good news is that mackerel is an incredibly easy fish to fillet, provided you do have a proper filleting knife. This is not a "good to have" item for filleting fish - it really is essential if you're to do the job properly and enjoy good results.

Fresh Atlantic mackerel

Lay the mackerel flat on one side on a chopping board. The head should be at the side of your weaker hand. Hold the mackerel by the head with your weaker hand and make an almost semi-circular cut behind the pectoral fin and around the head, angled slightly towards the head.

First fillet removed from mackerel

Turn the knife carefully that the sharp end of the blade faces the tail and simply slice back and forward over the backbone all the way to the tail. Lift the first fillet free.

Second fillet removed from mackerel

Turn the mackerel over and simply do the same again on the second side to remove the other fillet.

Bones removed from centre of mackerel fillets

There is a ridge of bones runs down the centre of each fillet from the head end about two-thirds of the way to the tail. You can easily see/feel it in the fillet. This should be cut away by making a v-shaped cut in each fillet, down to but not through the skin.

Mackerel fillets are carefully washed in a bowl of cold water

Don't be tempted to wash the fillets under running water. They are very delicate and this could damage them. Instead, wash them gently in a large bowl of cold water, being particularly carefully to wash over what was the stomach area.

Washed mackerel fillets are patted dry with kitchen paper

Pat the fillets dry in kitchen paper and they are ready for cooking.

Mackerel fillet is patted in seasoned flour on skin side

Pour some olive oil in to a small non-stick frying pan and bring it up to a fairly high heat. Scatter the flour on a plate, season with salt and pepper and pat the mackerel fillet in it on the skin side only. Gently shake off the excess flour.

Mackerel fillet is added to hot pan skin side down

Lay the mackerel on its floured skin side in the hot pan. Keep the heat fairly high (the floured skin will protect the flesh) and let it fry for two or three minutes until you can see looking down on it that the flesh is cooked almost all the way through.

Mackerel fillet completing cooking on flesh side

Start your bread toasting and turn the heat off under the pan. Carefully turn the mackerel on to its flesh side and leave it to complete cooking for about a minute in the residual heat.

Wheat, spelt and rye toast

Lay your toast on your serving plate. There is no need to butter it - the oil from the salsa will soak part ways in to it.

Salsa is spooned on to wheat, spelt and rye toast

Spoon the salsa on to the toast and lay the mackerel fillet skin side up on top of the salsa.

Skin is peeled from mackerel fillet

Mackerel skin is very thin and perfectly edible but if you don't want to eat it, you will find it has crisped up so nicely that it should easily peel away if you start at the tail (narrow) end, freeing it at the start if necessary with a wide-bladed knife.

Tucking in to fresh mackerel fillet and salsa on toast

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