CATCH ME IF YOU CAN Mackerel freshly caught in Clew Bay by the White Water Boat, which fishes from the Helm Bar and Restaurant at the Quay in Westport.
Two seasons ago a combination of factors led no wily salmon to snatch on my fishing fly. Last year, thankfully, my catch improved and included a magical four big fish in four big days that will stay with me forever.
This year has surpassed all expectations and lady luck has allowed me hook and land several beauties already on the riverbank. Memories will live on forever, and each year the fish will naturally increase in size and weight.
Wild salmon are a rightful delicacy, travelling across our oceans, feeding and breeding across national boundaries, and returning to the exact same river as their birth. To eat one for supper is to enjoy nature’s best.
In our age of farmed fish, to be avoided because of farming intensity, I suggest that another fish more readily available as a viable alternative to the elusive salmon.
That fish is the stunning decorated, and muscled flesh, of the Mackerel. Wild, travelling far and wide, beautiful to view, and delicious to eat, the Mackerel rivals the Salmon. Both remain completely wild animals, untouched by man’s often cruel control, and can be paired with local vegetables. Here are my two go-to recipes for two such beauties - the king and prince of the seas.
Classic Poached Salmon
To fry a salmon is a sin in my mind, to bake one whole is a craft, and often trickily handled as one balances wetness and cooking amongst your flavour selected. Poaching simply lets the delicious pink flesh speak for itself. Sometimes simplest is best and in this case I agree.
What you need
- 1 whole salmon
- 1 dish large enough to hold fish with a lid
- 12 black whole peppercorns
- 2 bay leaves
- ½ a lemon
- Sea salt
- Local potatoes
What you do
Wash your local potatoes with scrubbing brush and start boiling in salted water. Gut fish and run it under cold water to fully clean, lay out in the cooking dish, fill with cold water to halfway up side of fish, add peppercorns and bay leaves, and heaped tablespoon of sea salt. Place over a low gas or electric heat, with lid on. Every 4 or 5 minutes check the water, move fish a little with a fork, and tilt dish to swirl water around. When it comes to the boil, squeeze and throw in the half lemon, after 2 minutes simmering, turn fish over, and after a further 2 minutes make sure lid stays on and turn off heat. Allow stand. With a knife, prize away sections of the flanks from the central bone structure and serve on plate with local potatoes, fresh greens, and mayonnaise, one of my all time enjoyable pleasures. A dish fit for a King!
With fresh mackerel the grilling blisters the skin, whilst cooking it moist underneath. Small scores made in the sides of the mackerel assist the cooking process. Here you cook one side, turn it over, and turn off heat for the other side to self-cook. It preserves the juices, and flavours, again letting you simply enjoy nature’s bounty.
What you need
- 2 mackerel
- Olive oil
- Sea salt
- Wedge of lemon
What you do
Gut and wash your fish. You can use both whole mackerel, or just fillets. With a sharp knife, lightly score three cuts down each side of the fish. Place tin foil over your grill tray, drizzle good glugs of oil all over. Roll the mackerel both sides and then sprinkle with sea salt. Place under high heat of grill with door open and skin side up. When skin is bubbling up and before it burns completely, just turn your mackerel over, close door of grill, and turn off all heat. Let sit for 5 minutes there while you get your potatoes and greens ready. Salty, moist, oily flesh paired with potatoes and green. A meal fit for any Prince!
Red Cabot is interested in food, nature and small things. He sells his food at Westport Country Markets in St Anne’s Boxing Club, James’s Street car park, Westport, every Thursday, from 8am to 1pm.