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Fish for supper

September 19, 2011

Freshly caught mackerelWe were all hunter-gatherers until about 10,000 years ago (modern Homosapiens that is).  Today I suspect that, for most of us, this is limited to hunting for a car parking space at the supermarket and gathering our shopping bags at the checkout.

Soap box alert:  Our dissociation from the source of our food has led to many of our food production ills (salmonella in eggs, BSE etc) and that I am always dismayed to witness how squeamish many of my friends and family are at staring the origins of their food in the face.

Fishing boat

The gathering side can be easy to get involved with; bushes were laden with blackberries and sloes as I left an England just going into Autumn (for the steamy shores of Dubai).  Hunting is a different matter altogether.  If I suggested that we all go out and shoot pheasants for the pot as a family day out I think I’d get short shrift.  However, hands shot up eagerly when my husband suggested we all go mackerel fishing. Even the vegetarian was keen.

When booking, the very friendly lady assured me that she suffered from the same lack of sea legs as me and found that taking ginger tablets did the trick.  Not wanting to drive after taking the stronger forms of sea-sickness remedy I located the nearest Boots the Chemist, popped a pill and ferried our merry band to the beach at Exmouth.

Mackerel fishing in Exmouth

There was something about the red and blue boat that looked both jolly and vulnerable.  Under grey skies, the trawler chugged out to the fishing grounds, the World Heritage Jurassic coastline receding rapidly.  The engine ceased and the boat began to gently roll on the swell.   The crew members handed out rods and gave brief instructions and soon about 30 lines and weights were dangling over the sides.  It was a slow start until a large man proudly hauled in his first gleaming mackerel, gleaming silver, black and blue. My husband and teens followed suit although my vegetarian daughter put most of hers back into the green, grey choppy water.

Mackerel fishingAfter nearly two hours, the cheerful crew gutted the catch and allocated fish according to how many each person had landed.  A tightly tied plastic bag with five mackerel was our booty.  I could hear the buzz and chatter, the delight at catching two fish on one line, the filleting skills and the fact that five men succumbed to the nausea-making lurch of  craft.  My head was over the side, eyes tightly shut for most of the journey – drat those ginger pills.

While freshness in fish is always desirable, in mackerel it is essential as it deteriorates rapidly.  It is an oily fish which benefits from simple cooking.  Put some herbs into the cavity and bake them.  I used rosemary and roasted some rhubarb alongside.  The oily flesh stays moist and succulent and ours were ready in about 20 minutes in a hot  oven.  Catching our dinner (or in my case hearing it being caught) was exhilarating and there are no lingering shots of the cooked version as we ate it straight away.

Types of mackerel

Mackerel are pelagic fish, swimming near the surface in shoals.   The size of these shoals are now diminished and so subject to stringent controls, however mackerel are fast-swimming, breed early and are not as popular in Europe as fish like cod and haddock so haven’t been as affected here by overfishing.

Species of mackerel caught locally in the UAE include the Indian Mackerel (Garfa) and the King Mackerel (also known as Kingfish or Kanaad), both have a stronger fishy flavour, firm flesh and are high in Omega 3.  Excellent grilled, I’d recommend an outside barbecue as the smell can be quite strong in the house.

Mackerel stuffed with rosemary

Baked mackerel with red onion and rosemary

Serves 2-3

5 mackerel, gutted, cleaned heads removed
1 red onion
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
several sprigs of rosemary

  1. Cut the red onion in half and then into thin slices
  2. Wash and dry the mackerel
  3. Season the inside of the fish with salt and pepper and put a few pieces of onion and a sprig of rosemary inside each one
  4. Drizzle a tiny amount of olive oil in a baking dish, scatter the remaining onion over the base and lay the fish on top in one layer
  5. Bake in a preheated oven of 200 C until the fish is cooked (about 20-25 minutes)

Serve with baked rhubarb (200g rhubarb, cut into short lengths put in a roasting tin 2 tablespoons of caster sugar and baked until just soft enough to take the point of a knife – about 20 minutes.)

Mackerel with rosemary

We used Tiger Charters for our fishing trip in Exmouth.

Have you had any hunter or gatherer moments lately?

20 Comments
  1. September 19, 2011 10:18 am

    I too get terribly sea sick, and car sick for that matter! Am gonna try your recipe Sally, LOVE mackerel and anything for more Omega 3 🙂

    • September 19, 2011 2:13 pm

      My Gran, Mum and sister are all terrible travellers – I’m not too bad except for in boats. I should have learned my lesson by now! Saw some lovely mackerel in Choitrams today and such a reasonable price too.

  2. September 19, 2011 10:40 am

    Baked mackerel sounds lovely.

    • September 19, 2011 2:11 pm

      Worth a try Baker Street:)

  3. Anna permalink
    September 19, 2011 10:57 am

    Ha ha, ginger tablets! the gisrls told me how green you looked! Did someone gut the fish for you, or did you do it yourself? I have vague memories of the teacher at school demonstrating how to gut and fillet a whole fish for fish pie…how times have changed!

    • September 19, 2011 2:04 pm

      I left the tablets in Uk for you but now you know they don’t work they won’t even have a placebo effect! The crew gutted the fish and sadly I couldn’t even raise my head to watch this (otherwise there would’ve been photographic evidence!).

  4. September 19, 2011 10:59 am

    What an informative write-up, and I’m loving the fish photography, especially that first pic! (FBC2011 just added a new flavor to your photography ;)!)

    You know, I always get confused about what fish you’re meant to grill vs. fry vs. smoke, etc…is there an easy way to figure it out, or is it just something you learn fish by fish?

    • September 19, 2011 2:09 pm

      Glad you like the first pic but quite a miracle really as is was taken on a swaying craft and I forced myself to go over, hurriedly pressed the shutter, before resuming the ‘heaving’ position! I agree with you that knowing what to do with fish is confusing and I think it’s something you learn through practise. I am confident with the common English varieties but am at a loss when it comes to the more obscure fish from this region. I have resolved to learn a lot more motivated especially by a brilliant book I am reading called In at the Deep End (cooking fish Venice to Tokyo) by Jake Tilson who tried to overcome his fear of fish (literal fear) by cooking his way round the world. Fascintating stuff.

  5. September 19, 2011 11:01 am

    Fabulously informative post- thank you. We love fresh mackerel but have never thought of the diy approach. Sounds a wonderful family experience. Great, simple recipe to showcase this beautiful & uber nutritious fish, too. Gorgeous 😀

    • September 19, 2011 2:10 pm

      I would recommend catching it yourself if only for the beautiful colours of the fish which fade quickly and have almost disappeared by the time they hit the shops. Mackerel needs to be uber fresh and this guarantees it. Thanks for you nice comment.

  6. September 19, 2011 12:36 pm

    Five mackerel! Well done all of you. Sounds like a fun day out. What a busy time you had over in England!

    • September 19, 2011 2:11 pm

      Yes Ren, so busy that I’m writing it up now rather than in UK!

  7. September 20, 2011 12:39 am

    I am not big on fish but mackerel always looks so beautiful, especially contrasted against that back bucket. I would have thrown up on the that little boat for sure, I am rubbish on the sea.

  8. September 20, 2011 9:39 am

    Hi Sally
    Really enjoyed the blog, great idea to take the family fishing I totally agree the disassociation the origin of what goes into the general publics mouths is incredible. I also am amazed at the lack of knowledge People have with fish, with the biggest reason for not eating it being “they don’t like bones” aargh !!! When I get time I’m going get some vids done showing you can remove them!.
    Any way I have loads of recipes on. My site and wondered if I could add yours? I would obviously credit to yourself.
    Have fun steve.

    • September 21, 2011 8:03 am

      Fish can we pretty daunting Steve, especially living in a foreign country with different names for everything. I hated the bones when I was a child but someone taught me the best way to remove them and I was up and running. Videos sound like a really good idea. Fishmongers like yourself play a really important part here. I hope you are supporting Hugh’s Fish Fight!

  9. September 20, 2011 10:30 am

    I so love going fishing, and eating what I catch! I love mackerel as well and hope to get some fresh again soon as your recipe has inspired me 🙂

    • September 21, 2011 8:01 am

      So glad Tandy. Wish I had your constitution though.

  10. September 20, 2011 11:45 pm

    We eat a lot of seafood, but one thing we don’t do is fish! Thanks for taking us out with you, Sally!

    • September 21, 2011 1:06 am

      You do EVERYTHING else though Celia 🙂

  11. Keith Gebert permalink
    October 21, 2011 3:42 am

    Generally I don’t read article on blogs, however I would like to say that this write-up very compelled me to take a look at and do it! Your writing style has been amazed me. Thank you, very nice post.

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