The humble mackerel is often overlooked in my opinion. Even many fishermen don’t value it because it is thought of as cheap and plentiful. I think it is extremely underrated as it is such a versatile fish to cook with and its flesh is perfect for curing. The smokiness imparted by burning the hay gives it a richness and depth of flavour that is balanced by the acidity of the pickled lemons and the pea shoots add a sweet crispness. You will need a bag of meadow hay for this recipe but it is easy to find in most pet shops. Setting fire to the hay should be done outside as it gets very smoky but the delicate flavour it imparts to the fish is worth smoking the garden out.
4 mackerel fillets, with the skin on
450ml/16 fl oz/2 cups olive oil
40g/11⁄2 oz pea shoots
salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the pickled lemons
100ml/31⁄2 fl oz/ 1/3 cup +2 tbsp chardonnay vinegar
50g/13⁄4oz/1⁄2 cup caster sugar
2 Amalfi lemons (or large unwaxed lemons)
For the mackerel cure
21⁄2 tbsp table salt
50g/13⁄4oz/1⁄2 cup unrefined
5 tsp grated lemon zest
4 tsp grated lime zest
2 tsp coriander seeds
1 To make the pickled lemons, gently heat 150ml/5 fl oz/scant 2/3 cup water, the vinegar and the sugar together in a pan. When the sugar has dissolved, remove from the heat and allow to cool.
2 Thinly slice the lemons,discarding the seeds,and place them into the pickling liquid. Transfer to a bowl, cover and place in the fridge for at least 48 hours before serving.
3 To mix the mackerel cure,put the salt, sugar,lemon and lime zest and coriander seeds in a food processor and blend to a fine powder. sprinkle the resulting mix onto a tray and lay the fillets on top, flesh side down. Put in the fridge for 30 minutes.
4 Rinse the fillets under cold running water to remove the salt mix and drain well on kitchen paper.
5 To smoke the mackerel, line a barbecue fish clamp with meadow hay. Place the fillets in a single layer on the hay and cover with more hay before closing the clamp. either place onto a lit barbecue or set the hay alight and allow to burn.
6 Remove the fillets from the hay,cleaning off as much of the hay as possible, and set aside.
7 Drain the lemon slices and place them in the centre of a plate. Season the mackerel fillets with black pepper and place on top of the lemon slices.
8 In a small bowl, combine 150ml/5floz/scant2/3 cup of the pickling liquid with the olive oil and mix well. dress the peashoots with this mixture, season with salt and black pepper and serve alongside the mackerel.