Mackerel Stuffed with Nuts and SpicesServes: 4
This classic dish originates from the Ottoman Empire in Turkey. As a result, variants are found all the way from Serbia and Greece, around the mediterranean to Egypt and North Africa. The fish is gutted not through the belly, as is common in Europe, but rather through the gills (as is common in Africa). This means that the entire body cavity can be filled with the stuffing.
Ingredients:1 large, fresh, mackerel — this should be scaled and thoroughly washed, but not gutted
3 tbsp olive oil
5 shallots, finely chopped
2 tbsp pine nuts
2 tbsp blanched almonds, finely shaved
3 tbsp walnuts, finely chopped
2 tbsp currants, soaked in warm water for 10 minutes, then drained
8 dried apricots, finely chopped
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp hot chilli powder
1 tsp sugar
sunflower oil, for shallow frying
1 small bunch of fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 small bunch of dill, finely chopped
juice of 1 lemon
salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
1 bunch of fresh dill (to garnish)
a few sprigs of flat-leaf parsley (to garnish)
1 lemon cut into wedges (to garnish)
Method:Using a sharp knife, cut an opening just below the mackerel's gills (ensure that the head and backbone remain intact). Push our finger into this opening and pull out the guts then rinse the fish inside and out with plenty of water.
Lay the fish on a chopping board, and using a rolling pin or meat mallet gently bash the fish along the length of the body on both sides, making sure that you smash the backbone. Now, using your hands, gently massage the skin to loosen it away from the flesh (take care not to pummel too hard or the skin will rip).
Working from the tail and towards the head squeeze the loosened flesh out of the opening below the gills (you need to employ a similar technique that you would use to squeeze a half-empty toothpaste tube). Remove any bits of bones from the flesh as it emerges then rinse the emptied mackerel skin sack and set aside.
Heat the oil in a frying pan, add the shallots and cook for about 4 minutes, or until soft but not coloured. Add the nuts and stir to combine then cook until they begin to colour. Now stir in the currants, apricots and the spices along with the sugar. Mix in the extracted mackerel flesh and fry for about 3 minutes, or until cooked through. Add the herbs and lemon juice then season to taste with salt and black pepper.
Lift the emptied mackerel skin and push the filling in through the slit you made. Ensure that you jiggle the fish every now and then to make certain that it's entire length is filled without air pockets.
As the skin starts to fill gently squeeze the stuffing mixture down towards the tail to compact it down. By the end you should have what looks like a plump, fresh, mackerel.
Heat sunflower oil in a pan. Toss the mackerel with a little flour (this coats it and helps crisp the skin) then add to your pan and fry until the skin begins to brown and buckle.
When cooked, remove the fish from the pan and dry on kitchen paper. Cut the fish crossways into thick slices and arrange these on a serving dish. Surround with sprigs of dill and parsley and serve with the lemon wedges.