Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Roast mackerel with blood orange salad

Mackerel is a fine fish. Every time I eat mackerel I wonder why fish like sea bass and even cod are so highly prized (and highly priced), while the humble mackerel sits on the fishmonger's slab with its £7 per kilo price label, glistening invitingly and watching all those more expensive specimens bought and paid for. Not only is it delicious, it is also beautiful. I think it's something about the smooth firmness of the silvery body; it's not scaly or slimy like a sea bass or sea bream, just plump and almost metallic looking with a firmness of flesh that those other fish lack. I feel healthy just looking at a fresh mackerel on ice, let alone eating one.

A whole, grilled mackerel is a wonderful sight to behold, and to eat. The flesh has a satisfying thickness and graininess about it; it's almost meaty in texture and packed with flavour. However, it does need something to cut through its richness. This is where one of my favourite seasonal imports comes into play: blood oranges.

Another beautiful ingredient, the blood orange has more sharpness than an ordinary orange, which makes it just right for pairing with the oily fish. Its colours are also spectacular against the muted bronze tones of the grilled mackerel. I made a salad of blood orange, watercress, spinach, rocket and grated carrot, dressed with a mixture of blood orange juice, red wine vinegar and olive oil, and finished off with chopped mint and coriander. Like the fish, it made me feel healthy just to look at it, and the colours are spectacular.

The mackerel just went under the grill, after I slashed the skin and rubbed in lots of salt and pepper. This ensures a nice crispy skin and a moist, rich interior. You just don't get that kind of flavour with any other fish, which is why I love it so much. If it wasn't so oily and therefore potentially hard on the waistline, I'd eat it every day.

The combination of the sharp, slightly sweet, crunchy salad against the fish is truly wonderful. The entire plate is just what you need on a January day: it's healthy, bright-coloured, and has sharp citrus flavours that will wake your mouth up from any Christmas-carbohydrate-induced stupor. No further adornments necessary: just a big pile of zesty salad and that simplest of things, a whole grilled fish.

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