I believe there is such a thing as the mackerel gene. The one where you open a packet of smoked mackerel, breathe in, and immediately feel both better and that you want to eat it all. Immediately.
Mackerel seems to be something that I am eating more and more. Not so much that I grow bored with it, or that I feel like I am singlehandedly threatening fish stocks. But it keeps reappearing on the menu at home, partly because it’s Good For Us, and partly because we all seem to like it in different variations.
Mackerel was part of my childhood, in the form of Kipper Pate, which most of the time was really made with smoked mackerel. It would sometimes come out at Christmas as a treat. Take the richness of the fish, mix with butter and cream, and spread on toast…that’s pretty much it. Ideal for parties, and a little goes a long way.
Later on, I rediscovered it in the soothing ‘thick soup’ that is Cullen Skink. Again, it’s meant to be another fish, smoked haddock, rather than mackerel, but mackerel does just fine. We particularly enjoyed a version where you buy peppered mackerel – you already have some salt from the smoking process, and the pepper adds a hit to lift the creaminess of the milk and the potato.
In my attempts to keep up the oily fish in the diet, I started eating mackerel in various guises as part of a take-in lunch at work. I don’t know that it was greatest for the breath, in an open plan office, but it did help you feel like you were having a proper lunch.
What next? Tinned mackerel, as a quick and easy sandwich option – just mash with a fork, and add to bread. Sometimes you can get it in tomato-y sauce, which adds some piquancy to cut through the richness of the fish.
For some reason, mackerel sandwiches alongside parsnip soup make for a wonderful combination of richness and sweetness. (And since Dan loves parsnips, it’s an easy choice all round.)
Last year, I came upon a Nigel Slater mackerel dauphinoise – think mackerel, thin slices of potato, cream, and baking it all. Add a little greenery for some tang – watercress would be great. I ate this and pretty much laughed out loud at how good it was.
The most recent find is a variation on this, from a different source: similar idea but substitute sweet potato and coconut milk. Actually, I do a mix of regular and sweet potato, along with the coconut and the fish. The sweet potato sludges down nicely, the regular potato keeps a little bite, and it’s great comfort food all round.
It may be the smoking process. It may be the mouthfeel of the fish. But it is a wonder – and it’s more of a sustainable fish than cod and other white fish.
Whether it makes you dance for your daddy or sing for your mammy, you know that you will want a little fishie of this kind. Now I just need to wait for the boat to come in again.