Mackerel is perfect for a weekday, because it doesn’t really improve with fancy treatment.
A word about whole fish: By and large, Americans are not used to fish that stare back. Whole fish are sometimes hard to find in supermarkets. I encourage you to go a bit out of your way. If you don’t have a fish market or fishmonger nearby, look for an Asian supermarket, which will often stock many varieties, sometimes still swimming in their tanks. Cooking whole fish has many advantages. They are not as fragile as fillets: the skin protects the flesh from drying out and makes methods like broiling a real option. They look spectacular on the plate; suddenly you feel as if you are eating something luxurious as well as virtuous. Check whole fish the same way you would a fillet; if the flesh is opaque and flaky down to the bone, it’s done.–Elizabeth Bard
LC Skin and Bone Alert
This quick, weeknight-friendly cooking method ensures moist, tender mackerel. It doesn’t, however ensure a crisp skin. To eat or not to eat? We wouldn’t advise it—although that’s up to you. Once you get past the skin, beware those pesky tiny little bones.
Mackerel with Onions and White Wine
- 1 medium onion very thinly sliced
- 5 black peppercorns (or a good grinding of mixed peppercorns)
- Several sprigs of flat-leaf parsley half left whole and half finely chopped
- Two whole mackerel gutted, scaled, and rinsed
- Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 to 3/4 cup dry white wine
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter cut into pieces (optional, but strongly encouraged)
- Preheat your broiler.
- Place the onions, peppercorns, and whole parsley sprigs in a shallow roasting pan just large enough to hold the fish. (Don’t use a glass baking dish as it may crack under the intense heat of the broiler.) Top the onions and aromatics with the mackerel. Season the inside of the cavities with salt and pepper.
- Add the white wine to the pan until you’ve got about a 1/4-inch in the bottom of the pan. (Clearly the amount of wine you use will depend on the size of the pan. If you’re using a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, use no more than 3/4 cup wine.) Sprinkle the fish generously with salt.
- Broil for 5 minutes. Gently turn the fish and continue to cook for an additional 5 minutes. If your mackerel are slightly larger, give them an extra minute or two.
- Transfer the mackerel to individual plates. If desired, return the pan to the broiler to soften the onions and reduce the sauce slightly. Season the sauce with salt and pepper to taste. You may wish to add the little butter to the sauce, tilting the pan until it melts. Serve the fish topped with the onions, a few spoonfuls of the sauce, and a sprinkling of the chopped parsley.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
Simple and succulent! I served this with the potato and celery root mash and a salad tossed with vinaigrette. The aromatics infused the tender mackerel flesh nicely, producing a light, non-fishy texture, a bit like monkfish. I reduced the juices a bit and added some butter, as suggested, and the dining room turned into a bistro. I imagined myself in one of those restaurants deep in St. Germain, or another not-too-pricy Parisian neighborhood. My prep, however, wasn’t as romantic. I wasn’t able to find anything smaller than a two-pound, whole fish, so I doubled the onions, parsley, and wine, and used the largest pan I own, though I still had to cut off the fish’s tail to fit him in the pan. I realized later that doubling the amount of onions wasn’t necessary. They just needed to nest under the fish, and the rest were singed by the broiler. In fact, the broiling time for that large a fish was only a couple of minutes more per side than the two, 6-ounce fish the recipe required. If you haven’t broiled whole fish before, this will make you a convert.
Once I got through the ordeal of getting the fish, it was smooth sailing. Overall, I loved the flavor of the mackerel, and its presentation was perfect. This dish was very simple to make. What I didn’t like about it were the tiny bones that remained after removing the main section of bones. This is something that I’ve always struggled with when I’ve made whole fish.
Originally published April 06, 2010