When I think of summer, my mind immediately goes to the meals we’re going to eat: strawberry tarts, chicken with homemade mayonnaise, melon and prosciutto washed down with chilled rosé. There are tomatoes to dress with little more than some fruity olive oil and a sprinkling of salt, zucchini blossoms to pair with anchovies and mozzarella, figs to layer with goat cheese and honey on rounds of baguette. And don’t forget the mackerel.
Mackerel is an underrated fish, and it just so happens to be one of my favorites. With an oily, salty flavor and texture, it’s hearty and nourishing and stands up to bold flavors. In the summer, we salt the mackerel to draw out some of the oil, then dress it with lemon juice before grilling it. The bright pucker of the lemon complements the rich fish, leaving tender, flavorful flakes that pair well with rosé.
Recently, though, we’ve also been preparing it alongside rhubarb. Rhubarb and mackerel, you may ask? Why, yes. Trust me.
Though rhubarb is most commonly prepared as a dessert, its technical status as a vegetable warrants thinking of it as such. Chefs Trina Hahnemann of Denmark and English food writer Nigel Stater have both created intriguing recipes pairing mackerel with rhubarb, and it turns out that the tart flavor of the rhubarb balances out the oily fish just as well as the lemon we’ve used in years past.
The recipe I’m sharing with you today is based on Slater’s version. To start, you’ll roast the rhubarb with only the tiniest touch of sugar, just enough to take the sharpness away. While it’s cooling, you’ll fillet two mackerel, such as the Norwegian ones pictured here, leaving the skin on, then dredge the skin sides in flour and cook in a pan for a few minutes with capers, rosemary, sherry vinegar, and the rhubarb nestled beside the fish. That’s it. You could serve some boiled new potatoes on the side and and drink it with a a dry rosé or pilsner. We happened to have one last can of Ringnes Pilsner in the fridge, which was the perfect pairing.
Norwegian Mackerel with Roasted Rhubarb
Adapted from Nigel Slater
5 stalks rhubarb
1-2 tablespoons Demerara sugar or other brown sugar
2 Norwegian mackerel, filleted
1/4 cup flour
Freshly-ground black pepper
A few glugs of olive oil
2 sprigs rosemary, chopped, plus 2-3 sprigs for garnish
1 tablespoon capers, drained
Splash of sherry vinegar
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut rhubarb into 6-inch lengths and place in a roasting dish. Sprinkle with sugar. Roast about 10 to 15 minutes, until the stalks are just tender enough to be pierced with a knife. Cool in the dish.
Working in two batches or using two large frying pans, heat the oil. Season flour with some salt and pepper and place in a shallow dish. Lightly dredge the skin side of the mackerel fillets in the flour and place in the frying pan, skin-side down. Sprinkle the rosemary over the fillets, nestle in the rhubarb, and scatter the capers over the top. Give the mackerel a minute or two to cook halfway through, then flip. Pour in some vinegar and cook until the mackerel is done. Serve the mackerel with the rhubarb on the side, pouring the juices from the pan on top of the fish.