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Mackerel with onions and capers
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Mackerel with onions and capers

Mackerel is one of those things that divides the world into two classes of people: Those who love it and those who hate it.

I would submit, however, that the haters may have been misled by unhappy childhood experiences involving canned fish and long overcooking. I came to mackerel at the sushi bar, where mackerel nigiri-zushi, known as "saba," is one of the prettiest and tastiest items on the menu - dark meat with a pretty silver stripe, perched on a ball of sushi rice, a rich and sensuous bite that is in no way "fishy."

In Western-style (i.e., cooked) preparations, mackerel has a reputation as "strong-flavored," and it certainly packs more of a flavor punch than, say, scrod or sole. But bear in mind that freshness is the No. 1 criterion for any fish;, and m ackerel that hasn't had days to decay may be oily and distinctive, but "fishy" it's not. Give it a try, if you can find it fresh at a reputable merchant ... and remember that mackerel is even richer than salmon in those omega-3 fatty acids that are good for your heart.

Fresh mackerel isn't often available here, but our excellent fishmonger had a batch of it the other day - neat, silver-skinned fillets small enough that two or three were needed for a serving. I brought them home and fashioned a simple recipe, baking the fish briefly with lime, onions and capers chosen to meld with the fish's flavor while offseting its oily quality a bit.

INGREDIENTS: (Serves two)

5 or 6 mackerel fillets, about 16 ounces total
3 tablespoons olive oil
Juice of 1 lime
1 small-to-medium white onion
2 tablespoons capers
Vegetable shortening


1. Rinse and dry the mackerel fillets and put them in a bowl or container. Blend 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and the lime juice in a quick vinaigrette, and pour it over the fish fillets, turning them several times so all surfaces are coated; add a little salt and pepper to taste and leave them to marinate briefly. Preheat the oven to 450F (230C).

2. Slice the onion into rings and cut them in half. Sautee them in the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil until they are soft and starting to brown; add the capers and remove from heat. (If you find capers too vinegary to suit you, feel free to rinse and drain them before use.)

3. Lightly grease a shallow baking pan with vegetable shortening. Place the fillets in it, all in one layer. Pour the sauteed onions and capers over the fish and place the pan in the preheated oven. Bake for about 10 minutes and serve with your choice of side dishes.

(I accompanied the fish with a favorite starch-and-vegetable dish that I understand to be of Dutch origin: Equal amounts of potatoes and cauliflower prepared as you normally make mashed potatoes. The cauliflower adds a delicious "mystery" taste and texture that will drive your family or guests crazy trying to guess what it is.)

WINE MATCH: Mackerel, like other oily fish, will work with a tart, acidic white or a fruity, non-tannic red, but the lime juice and capers tilted this one toward white. I served it with a pair of Austrian Gruner Veltliners, which worked well enough, but both proved off-dry and not as acidic as I expected. Next time I'll try a Sauvignon Blanc, perhaps from Sancerre in the Loire or possibly New Zealand.

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Thursday, Sept. 19, 2002
Copyright 2002 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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