Ingredient of the week: mackerel

Emma Crowhurst shares a local recipe for mackerel

Mackerel is a beautiful fish. Silver-skinned, sleek and smooth, the flesh is firm and full and flavour. With high levels of healthy omega-3 fats and low mercury levels, these little swimmers are the perfect fish to consume. Plus they are affordable and really easy to cook.

The bold flavour and lack of scales makes the fillets the ultimate fast food. Traditionally teamed with sharp fruity sauces like gooseberry or with citrus inspired flavours, the rich flesh can cope with almost anything other than any added fat. No cream, or flour-based sauce should ever be served with mackerel. Instead try a rustic tomato sauce with olives and capers , harissa, lime and orange segments, chunky mango, lime and chilli salsa or a herby sauce vierge.

Here is a recipe from Jonathan Nicholson of the Bell at Saxmundham. He previously worked at Southwolds’ award-winning Pier, which he ran as General Manager. He is East Anglian through-and-through, growing up in north Norfolk and first cooking in Suffolk back in 1989. He spent many years working with Sir Terence Conran, as Executive Chef of his famous Bluebird restaurant on Chelsea’s King’s Road.

He owned the acclaimed George at Cavendish in west Suffolk and Carlton Manor, near Oulton Broad, both of which were rather run-down before being transformed into award-winning neighbourhood restaurants. Like the George, The Bell At Sax’ has been sitting closed, sad and unloved, and now they are thrilled to be re-opening its doors, giving it a new laid-back feel, and putting it back at the heart of Saxmundham.

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I met him at the Suffolk Show and he demonstrated this wonderful mackerel recipe.

Recipe; Crisp-skinned pan-fried mackerel and broad bean pesto on garlic crostini

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(serves 4 as a starter)

This makes a lovely light lunch or supper starter with dressed leaves on the side. You can make smaller versions as a tasty canapé too.


Ciabatta style loaf, few days old is better

Local rapeseed oil

1 garlic clove, peeled and finely grated

Sea salt and black peppermill

300g broad beans, fresh or defrosted

2 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced

Few anchovy fillets (optional)

100g pinenuts or shelled walnuts

Leaves from a few sprigs of basil and mint

1 small lemon, grated zest and juice

75g grated pecorino cheese

2 mackerel, filleted and pin-boned (ask your fishmonger)

Pecorino shavings and basil leaves


Pre-heat your oven to 200c. Meanwhile prepare the pesto. Blanch the beans in boiling water for a few minutes. Run under cold tap to cool. Squeeze the beans out of their unwanted grey skins.

Place a small frying pan over a medium heat, add a thin layer of oil and gently fry the garlic and anchovies. Once garlic is lightly coloured, tip into a food processor with nuts, herbs, lemon zest and juice, cheese and three tablespoons of oil. Process to a rough puree. Add in the beans and pulse to your desired consistency, I like chunky, adding more oil to lubricate, if needed.

Cut 8 half inch-thick slices of bread. Mix garlic and seasoning into a good glug of oil and brush bread on both sides. Place on to a baking tray and bake until golden, turning occasionally. Set to one side.

Put a large ovenproof griddle pan on to a very high heat.

Cut each fillet into two pieces. Lightly score the mackerel with a few diagonal slits down the skin. Oil very lightly on both sides and season. When smoking hot, lay the fillets in the pan skin-side down. Press each down with a fish slice for a few seconds. Transfer pan to the oven for 6 – 8 minutes. Once cooked, remove and serve a fillet on a crostini topped with a good dollop of pesto, pecorino shavings and basil leaves.

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