The weather has warmed up just enough and the sun has come out long enough to make it feel like summer might be limbering up to actually do something. It’s making me crave fresh bright flavours after the long cold months that have only been coped with by eating lots of stodge and stews. I’ve particularly been enjoying fish recently, visiting my favourite fishmonger, Dagon’s in Brixton Village, to try as many sorts as possible including tilapia, snapper and butterfish.
Each has been delicious, but all that newness has given me a sudden urge for something familiar. I picked up a rainbow trout and grilled it with dill and lemon, but it was the mackerel that caught my eye. I think the most beautiful fish on the counter, that oily flesh is so versatile and flavoursome and allows for lots of experimentation. I had intended to barbecue it if the weather held and serve with salsa verde, but the skies were as grey as the fish skin and I decided against it.
Mister North’s love for Fuschia Dunlop’s Every Grain of Rice has revived my love of sichuan peppercorns with their fabulous fizzing flavour and I immediately thought of their floral tones with the fish. Not keen to grill oily fish indoors since I don’t have an extractor fan, I wondered if I could try a cured version instead to capture those light summery flavours. It turns out to be very easy and a perfect thing to do if you don’t want to heat the kitchen up…
Sichuan Pepper Cured Mackerel: serves 2
- 4 fillets of mackerel
- 2 teaspoons sea salt
- 1 teaspoon caster sugar
- 1 teaspoon sichuan peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon rhubarb juice (or lemon if you prefer)
- 1 small cucumber
- 1/2 cho cho or christophene
- 1 tsp brown rice vinegar
- 1 tsp mirin (optional)
- 1/2 tsp brown sugar
- 1 tsp fish sauce
If using the rhubarb juice, either drain some from stewed rhubarb or grate a raw stalk, squeezing the juice from it as you go. You only want a little bit and it should be tart and sharp to complement the fish.
Ask your fishmonger to fillet the mackerel and once you get it home, pinbone it and remove the remaining bones with tweezers (preferably not the ones from your beauty regime like I did) and if anyone with a compromised immune system is eating the fish, flash freeze it for a few hours.
Place the fillets skin side down on clingfilm. Then mix the sugar and salt with the rhubarb juice and add in the freshly ground Sichuan peppercorns until it is a stiff paste. Smear over the flesh of the fish and then make a sandwich by putting the fish together with the flesh on flesh. Wrap tightly in the clingfilm and then make a parcel with tinfoil to seal it neatly.
Leave to cure for up to 48 hours. Once you are ready to eat it, take out of the fridge an hour before and bring to room temperature. Open your parcel and remove any excess peppercorns, Slice each fillet into thirds and serve. I made a quick cucumber and cho cho salad by peeling off strips off each and dressing them with rice vinegar, mirin, sugar and fish sauce and leaving for 15 minutes. I also served some steamed white rice.
The mackerel was fabulous. Firm, almost sushi like in texture and gloriously flavoursome. There was no heat from the Sichuan pepper only a light floral taste and a slightly numbing feeling that was intensely moreish. I couldn’t taste any rhubarb but otherwise, this dish was just fantastic. I imagine it would work perfectly with horseradish or wasabi if you like it. Rediscover the familiar in style!