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Best of Modern British Cookery
by Sarah Freeman
There are few more delicious fish, and certainly none cheaper, than absolutely fresh, hard, shining mackerel. Years ago, when staying in the family cottage on the coast of Wales, we used to take the boat out and catch them in time for breakfast: they were eaten within an hour of being caught, and memorable. We simply grilled or fried them perfectly plainly, and until I discovered the following recipe I could think of no better way of serving them. The combination of lime juice and fennel, however, offsets their richness and intensifies their flavour without cloaking it; the fennel seeds, which are used whole, also add texture.
When buying the fish, look for the Marine Stewardship Council label, which means that the fish has been caught from sustainable stocks off Devon and Cornwall.
The only preparation needed, apart from washing the fish and gutting it if necessary, is rubbing it with a little butter and flour and squeezing a lime. As it is so quick, it seems an ideal dish for one: I have therefore given quantities per person.
The smell of mackerel tends to cling; for this reason, you may prefer to cook it on foil in the grill pan rather than using the rack.
Serve either alone (which really suits it best) or with green beans or broccoli and a baked potato.
Cooking time is 6-7 minutes.
For 1


    • 1 mackerel
    • About 1/2 oz butter
    • Flour
    • Salt
    • Pepper
    • 3/4--1 scant teaspoonful fennel seeds
    • 1/2 lime


Clean the fish if necessary. Using a sharp knife, cut off the head just behind the gills; slit the underside from the head end to about two thirds of the way to the tail and pull out the gut. Thoroughly rinse the inside and scrape off any dark spots; rinse again. If the fish is already cleaned, you should still rinse the inside and check for specks of dark matter.

Wash and dry the outside. Make 3 or 4 diagonal slits about 3/4 inch deep across both sides to ensure even cooking. Rub all over, first with a little butter, then with a thin coating of flour, and season moderately with salt and pepper.

Set the grill to fairly high. Line the tray of the grill pan with foil, spread it with a little more butter, and either put the fish into it or above it on a rack. Grill the fish for 2 minutes; baste and grill it for another minute or until it is well browned or slightly charred and crisp. Turn it over and grill the second side for about 1½ minutes; baste and grill it for another minute or until browned, as before. Test to see if the fish is ready by inserting a knife into the backbone: the flesh should be pale and opaque all the way through.

While the fish grills, spread the fennel seeds over a small baking dish and set them under the grill for about 40-60 seconds, until very faintly coloured and the smell is evident. Remove them from the heat. When the fish is just cooked, sprinkle it with the toasted seeds, baste, and return it to the grill for just 20-30 seconds. Sgueeze a little lime juice over it and add the rest to the juice in the pan. Pour the juice on to the serving plate; set the fish on top.

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