Friday, August 22, 2014

On Mackerel, Fish in General, and the Wonder that is Harissa

I was in Lebanon last week and spent a happy afternoon killing two hours before sunset on the rooftop of The Albergo Hotel, consuming an enormous bottle of San Pellegrino water, an Almasa beer, and some of the best roast almonds and pistachios, both dusted with sea salt.

When back home, I mentioned this, a favorite moment from the trip, to a friend trapped at his writing desk in upstate New York and he emailed to say this made him hungry for pistachios, which he loved.

I do too, whether plain, in baklava, or used in a main. I commented that I once had roast grouper encrusted with pistachios.  

My novelist friend said I shouldn't eat grouper, not sustainable, almost all gone.

I have no idea whether this is true, and suspect he just wanted to deny me the pleasant memory, but I protested that it had been years ago, there were plenty around at the time.

In any case, that afternoon, at the fish monger in North London I asked for some mackerel, four filets.  They were fat fish and their eyes were clear so I knew they were fresh.  They were also cheap, six quid for four servings.  We should all eat more mackerel, an underrated fish.  They're plentiful, and cheap, and have all those good oils that make your brain grow.  

I made my mackerel for dinner with harissa, a spicey pepper paste from Tunisia that is sometimes served alongside couscous.  I'm using harissa in lots of things now, putting it on salmon and chicken.  I suppose you could roast nuts with some harissa to sharpen them.

In any case, this was my dinner on return.

Spicy Mackerel with Bread-crumbs

Mackerel - four fillets
Harissa - a big dollop
Breadcrumbs - 100 g?
Olive oil
A lemon

Rinse the mackerel and pat it dry.  Spread the harissa, a thin covering, on the flesh side, then roll the fillets in bread crumbs.  Over a medium heat, place skin side down in a frying pan coated with olive oil. Cook for two or three minutes, then flip them and cook for another one or two.

Serve with a wedge of lemon.  

We served them with steamed green beens and a salad.  They'd also go well with spinach.  

With that, we drank a full-bodied Spanish red from near Valencia, on special offer at the wine store just down the street.  I'd have been happy also with shiraz or even a rose.

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