Taking the mystery and fear out of cooking
Cooking a simple fish dish is the easiest thing in the world. You grill or fry it with a little butter and Bob’s your uncle. But it will only be delicious if the fish itself has flavor, and for me there can only be one winner: mackerel.
When I was a kid in Guernsey, some summer afternoons you would hear a small van driving slowly through the lanes with one man at the wheel and another hanging on at the back, shouting “Mackerel! Mackerel!” because they had suddenly got lucky and caught dozens of the shimmering blue-black-silver fish, and in those days such things were sold and eaten quickly rather than being frozen and kept for another day.
So every housewife on the route would take two or three, depending on how many mouths she had to feed. She would gut them, fillet them and fry them along with some potatoes and maybe some vegetables.
What she wouldn’t do was serve a green, fresh, tangy, herby cold sauce called chermoula with it – but that’s because she didn’t know any better and didn’t have access to foreign ideas and non-British herbs, as we do now. She might give you a wedge of lemon to squeeze over it, but probably not even that.
Mackerel is perfectly capable of looking after itself flavor-wise, but with chermoula it’s even better. Does a beautiful woman need a gorgeous dress and arousing perfume? No, but if she’s got them, why not?
If you don’t have access to fresh mackerel fillets (the frozen steaks from very big mackerel are nothing like it), there are several choices. First, you could move somewhere that does have fresh mackerel. Or you could talk to a local fishmonger and find out what the closest thing is where you are. Mackerel is an oily fish, and so is herring, so that’s a possibility.
I used barracuda once in the Caribbean and that was fun but very different: a group of us had just been out on a boat and caught it, so it was the occasion and the chermoula we enjoyed, rather than the flavor of the fish.
So, you’ve got the fish, which will probably be already cleaned and filleted, and there are no scales to worry about. All you do is fry it quickly in a small amount of oil, or grill it or put it in one of those medieval-looking barred cases and stick it on the barbecue. There is a strip of brown meat in there, but don’t discard that – it’s the best part.
And now the bit that lifts the whole thing: chermoula.
Cilantro (coriander leaves)
Fresh lemon or lime
Paprika (sweet or hot)
(You can judge the quantities yourself. For four people you need a soup bowl-full of the sauce – maybe more if they like it a lot. Use plenty of cilantro, not too much garlic and use the oil for bulk, but be careful. It should be mainly herbs. If you run out of cilantro, top it up with flat-leaf parsley.)
Chop the cilantro and place in a small mixing bowl
Add the crushed garlic
Pour in a large slug of olive oil
Squeeze in half a lemon or lime
Sprinkle in some paprika
Grate in the zest of half the lemon or lime
Adjust the quantity with more cilantro, oil and juice, add a little salt and pepper, taste and add more spices if it needs it. As ever, a touch of something spicy-hot is an option
Serve with boiled new potatoes or shallow-fried potato wedges, and a green salad.
Place the chermoula bowl on the table so people can help themselves, either putting it straight on the fish or making a pool on the plate.
For the potatoes, check out a previous recipe (on the home page, click on the search tool and type Sea Flavoured Squid with Potato Wedges).