Currabinny Cooks: Memories of the catching of mackerel

Currabinny Cooks: Memories of the catching of mackerel

The catching of mackerel holds much nostalgia for everyone in Currabinny.

It brings back memories of long summer days, high tides, shoreline boiling and bubbling with the millions of tiny sprat bodies and further out the menacing break of water caused by the predatory mackerel.

The mackerel herd the sprat into the shallow shoreline where they are easier to catch.

On good seasons, the whole rocky beach outside our houses would be shimmering with the tiny beached bodies of sprat, fleeing desperately from their delicious hunters.

Amateur fishermen in their droves would descend upon the many piers, slipways and low cliff edges of Cork harbour.

Those with boats could get behind the schools of mackerel as they herded the sprat to shore and would reap the easiest catches.

Once caught, buckets and old crates would be filled with the bodies of the silver bellied fish. Although completely native to Irish waters, there is something exotic about the marbled and tiger striped, blue, green and black bodies of the mackerel.

Their oily grey flesh provide delicious, fresh and easy meals all summer long. Our freezer would be filled to bursting point by the end of the summer.

Mackerel is a truly versatile fish and is available fresh, smoked, tinned and patéed.

Some people might find it too fishy or too oily but it all has to do with the quality and freshness of mackerel and we are incredibly lucky in this little island of ours too have a great supply of this fish, especially in the summertime.

We also have a great tradition of smoking which transforms the fish into a totally different experience.

With that said, gone are the days when the sea would bubble with frantic hungry fish along our coastal waters. Choosing this fish when in season and sustainably caught is important as is the case with all of our food.

Barbecued Mackerel on Thyme

Currabinny Cooks: Memories of the catching of mackerel

This is a wonderful way of barbecuing mackerel that involves placing the fillets on a bed of thyme, the woodier and knarlier the stalks the better.

The flames cause the thyme to smoke which permeates the fillets with its aroma and allow the flesh to cook without drying out or burning.

You can of course buy mackerel fillets in your local fish monger, prepared and ready for the barbecue or pan. If you do have a whole one, filleting it is quite straightforward.

Using a sharp filleting knife, make an incision behind both pectoral fins behind the head of the fish. Flip the fish onto its belly and cut the head off, straight through the backbone.

Throw the head away or keep for a fish stock, you could even use them as bait to catch other fish.

Slice down the backbone of the fish’s body, dragging the knife as close to it as possible.

Keep the knife hugging the backbone as you continue to cut away the fillet from the bone. Repeat this on the other side until both fillets are removed.

Use a tweezers to remove the pin-bones from the middle of each fillet.

Rinse the fillets with cold water and pat dry with kitchen paper.

  • 2 whole mackerel
  • 1 lemon
  • 8-10 sprigs of thyme
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil

Turn your barbecue on while you prepare the fillets, putting the grill over the hot coals.

Rub some olive oil into the skin of the fish and season well with salt and pepper on both sides. Cut the lemon in half and slice one half into a few rounds. Squeeze the other half over the mackerel fillets.

Drizzle some olive oil over the hot grill and arrange the sprigs of thyme as a sort of bed on the grill. Place the mackerel fillets skin side down on the thyme sprigs.

The sprigs will likely burn and even catch fire but this will all add to the smoky aroma you want the meat to absorb.

After 3-4 minutes turn the fillets over and cook for a further 3 or 4 minutes until the flesh has turned grey white.

Potted Mackerel with Chervil and Dulse

Currabinny Cooks: Memories of the catching of mackerel

In the summer months when mackerel are plentiful you could use fresh mackerel for this, simply roast their fillets with garlic and bay leaves, skin and flake into the food processor.

Otherwise the smoked fillets of mackerel you can get from the supermarket are top quality in this country.

If you are lucky enough to live in Cork I suggest getting your smoked mackerel from Hedermans or O’Connells in the English market.

Do not fret if you cannot find chervil, you can use a little tarragon or dill or leave it out altogether, the resulting spread will still be delicious.

  • 300g good quality smoked Irish mackerel fillets
  • 1 large garlic clove crushed
  • 1 tsp of mace
  • ½ tsp of cayenne pepper
  • 1 tbsp of chopped chervil
  • 1 tbsp of chopped parsley
  • Juice of 1 un-waxed lemon
  • 1 tbsp of finely chopped dulse (dillisk seaweed)
  • 1 tbsp of creamed horseradish
  • A little black pepper
  • 250g butter

In a food processor add the mackerel, lemon juice, crushed garlic, mace and cayenne pepper and blitz till fairly smooth.

Once blitzed stir in the chervil, parsley, dulse and horseradish. Season with a little cracked black pepper.

Decant into a mason jar or suitable ceramic pot.

In a small pan over a low heat, melt the butter, pour into a glass and skim off the cloudy solids that rise to the top.

Leave for a few minutes allowing any leftover solids to sink to the bottom. Pour the clear butter on top on top of the potted mackerel.

Cover with cling-film and leave in the fridge to set.

Enjoy with good Irish brown soda bread.

Panfried Mackerel with Bretagne Sauceand Cucumber Salad with Kalamata Olives

Currabinny Cooks: Memories of the catching of mackerel

This recipe requires you to make three different things but don’t let that put you off, they are each super simple and both the sauce and salad can of course be made ahead.

Hot, oily, crispy panfried mackerel pairs wonderfully with a sauce like bretagne which is based on a Hollandaise but made a little bit more complex with mustard and some chopped herbs.

Bretagne Sauce:

  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • 55g butter
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 2 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp chopped chervil or parsley or both

Cucumber Salad:

  • 2 cucumbers
  • 8-10 Kalamata olives
  • 2 tbsp of balsamic vinegar
  • 2 spring onions, finely sliced
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 1 tbsp chopped dill
  • Salt and pepper

To finish:

  • 2 fresh mackerel fillets, skin on
  • Sea-salt and black pepper
  • Olive oil

For the Bretagne Sauce: In a large bowl, add the two egg yolks, mustard, vinegar and herbs.

Melt the butter in a small pan and slowly drizzle it into the egg yolk mixture, whisking vigorously to combine.

The sauce should thicken gradually and be of a silky smooth texture, be careful not to allow the mixture to split by adding the butter too quickly.

For the Cucumber Salad: Cut the cucumbers in half, length-ways and use a teaspoon to gouge out the watery seeds. Chop the cucumber halves into good size chunks.

In a bowl whisk together the balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper and lemon juice until well combined.

Put the cucumber chunks into this bowl with the olives, sliced spring onions and dill. Cover with cling film and leave to marinate in the fridge for at least 30 minutes before serving.

To finish: Heat a thin layer of oil on a medium high heat in a large frying pan.

Season the fillets with a little salt and pepper and add them, skin side down to the pan. Cook for 2 or 3 minutes before flipping them over and cooking them for a further minute.

Serve warm with a good dollop of Bretagne sauce and the cucumber and kalamata olive salad.

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