I’m lucky enough to live close to the sea, and apart from the invigorating walks this also means I can usually hold of gorgeously fresh fish. Yesterday was no exception, and after hovering indecisively between the prawns and the mackerel much to the annoyance of everybody behind me (they say never go shopping when you are hungry to avoid such situations. The problem is, I am always hungry, when am I supposed to do it?) I eventually found myself on the way home, day dreaming about what I would pair with my bag full of beautiful silvery mackerel fillets. Line caught, I should add. Something we should all be demanding if we still want marine life in our oceans, or our grandchildren to have the chance of tasting any such fish in the future.
Mackerel, which is in season right now, is a wonderful addition to anyone’s diet, although due to the risk of elevated mercury levels, perhaps not one we should be eating daily. It’s high levels of omega-3 fatty acids (which can also be found in other non-fish sources, walnuts or flax seeds for example) act as a much needed winter immune boost and enhances your body’s ability to fight infection as well protecting cells from the damage that can ultimately result in cancers. As if this isn’t enough, the fatty acids found in mackerel help to reduce bad (LDL) cholesterol levels, whilst maintaining the good cholesterol (HDL) levels and helping to keep those blood vessels nice and elastic. They’re also said to aid concentration and memory (hence the reason mackerel for dinner right now- we have a few exams going on, been serving up sage tea with meals too, every little helps!) therefore reducing the risk of alzheimer’s disease. They’re also packed full of vitamins A, B6, B, C, D, E and K and minerals. Think immune boosting selenium and zinc, bone strengthening magnesium and calcium, and not forgetting the all important copper you’ll get a rough idea of what a nutritional powerhouse these little fish can be.
As usual, time was of the essence, so I didn’t have much time to be faffing around with a complicated meal, so I decided to knock up a spelt risotto with some seasonal veggies. If you’ve never made a risotto with spelt, you really should give it a go. The end result is just as creamy and comforting as the usual risotto, but you don’t have to stand round for twenty minutes, constantly stirring. Rather you can add the hot stock and leave it to bubble away gently for the required time, giving it the occasional attention whenever you are passing by. Soak the spelt for a couple of hours beforehand in cold water and you’ll cut the cooking time down by a good few minutes too. On top of that, you get an deliciously nutty end product that is higher in fibre, easier to digest and with a lower GI, so you’ll feel much fuller for much longer, always a plus in my house. In fact, the fennel, leek (two of my favourite and often overlooked vegetables) and spinach combination was so good with the spelt that this would be a great vegetarian meal on its own if you fancied forgoing the mackerel altogether and giving our over fished oceans a short break.
Pan Fried Mackerel and Leek and Fennel Spelt Risotto Recipe
Serves 4 generously:
For the stock:
One large fennel bulb (or two small) you want around 220g in total
3 cloves of garlic
1l to 1200 ml good quality vegetable stock
Start by crushing your garlic and leaving it to one side.
Roughly dice your fennel and slice the leeks. Soften them for around 15 minutes in a tablespoon or so of olive oil, with a teaspoon of maldon (or kosher) salt. Don’t forget, this can be done up to a day in advance, if you know time will be short. (When isn’t it mid-week?)
When the veggies are meltingly soft, throw in your garlic for around a minute, then the spinach and allow it to wilt for a couple of minutes.
Puree the whole lot in a food processor, using some vegetable stock, taken fro the litre that you will need later.
Stir into the rest of the stock, and, if you are making this in advance, pop it in the fridge until you are ready to crack on with the next stage.
For the risotto:
130g pearled spelt (soaked for a couple of hours if you have time, don’t stress if you don’t)
2 cloves garlic
60 ml vodka (I used lemon, but if you haven’t got it normal would be just fine, or even vermouth, or a nice dry white wine)
Start with the garlic (again) then soften your diced onion in a little olive oil for around 10 minutes, before adding the garlic into the pan with the spelt.
Add the vodka and turn up the heat so that it starts to reduce down.
Add a litre of the stock (I made the stock up to a litre and added any extra liquid needed as water only, just to be sure I didn’t have to waste any deliciousness) and turn the heat down so that the pan simmers away nicely in a non-demanding way in the background. Taste after 20 minutes to see if you need the extra 5 minutes cooking time, or indeed the extra 200 ml of water, and to adjust the seasoning.
When the risotto (bear in mind the finished result should be quite soupy) is cooked to your liking, remove from the heat. Spelt stays warm for quite a long time, so it’ll be fine whilst you get on with the business of pan frying the mackerel.
For the mackerel:
1 whole mackerel per person, filleted to give 2 individual fillets, or one butterflied fillet.
Umami condiment (if you can’t get it just use salt and pepper, but the umami will help keep the amount of salt you use down, and the flavour up)
Season the flour and put in a shallow bowl.
Dry each fillet carefully on kitchen paper, or air dry in the fridge, then toss in the flour so that each one has a good coating.
Fry, skin side first in olive oil, for three minutes before flipping them over and finishing them off for around 2 minutes, or until they are cooked through on the other side.
Pile your risotto up in a pasta bowl, drizzle it with olive oil and lots of (fresh please, the other stuff just tastes foul) lemon juice. Top with the pan fried mackerel and you’re all set.