Sichuan Pepper Cured Mackerel


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!


5 replies
  1. Alicia (foodycat)
    Alicia (foodycat) says:

    So THAT was the reason for the rhubarb juice! How interesting. I am not keen on mackerel sashimi, so I will have to try it cured like this to see if it wins me over.

  2. Karen Spires
    Karen Spires says:

    Great recipe. Looks like a nice bit of fish there. Have you tried L S Mash & Sons on Atlantic Road? They have to be the best fishmongers in Brixton. No idea why they get over looked sometimes – the fish is beautiful.

  3. Miss South
    Miss South says:

    Karen: I used to go to Mash’s and I find them very expensive and without a wide range of fish. I stopped going when he said it he couldn’t get me herring because ‘no one eats that anymore’. Plus everything seems to be filleted and I prefer my fish heads on. It is very good quality though. I always go to Dagons these days.

  4. Uncle Gerhard
    Uncle Gerhard says:

    Grey mackerel, skin off and blood vein removed.
    2 parts of dark brown sugar
    1 part of non-iodized sea salt
    1 pinch of sorbic acid (E 200)
    cooking sake

    Prepare a past with the sugar, salt, sorbic acid and cooking sake.
    Place a sheet of strong plastic cling wrap onto a large cutting board.
    spread a layer of the paste onto the sheet of plastic using a large plastic serving spoon. In order to prevent the paste from sticking to the spoon dunk it into a dish of water between spreads.
    Place a fillet of the Mackerel onto the spread of salt & sugar and roll the cling wrap around the fish. Make sure that all the fish has now a generous coating with your sugar brine mix.
    Now place the parcel onto a sheet of strong aluminium foil and wrap it up tightly.
    Place into a dish and weigh it down. Refrigerate for 24 hours, then turn the pack and refrigerate for another 24 hours.
    Now remove the foil and plastic under running water. wash off all the remaining sugar/salt mix and pat it dry with a paper towel. leave it our for the exterior of your cured fish to dry off.
    You can now wrap it and store it in your refrigerator for up to one year. It will not spoil, only slowly dry out as is progressively looses moisture until, eventually it has the consistency of a fish jerky.
    I enjoy mine with some tangy home made mayonnaise, caviar and toast.

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