This will be less of a recipe post and more of a getting you over your fear of whole fish post! Loads and loads of people stick to fillets because in lots of ways they are easier – no/minimal bones to deal with, no head, but you miss out on loads of flavour from cooking a fish whole! Mackerel is a firm favourite with us. Bird grew up in Brighton and the fishmongers on the seafront sell the freshest mackerel there so it was a regular dinner from a young age. This is one of our favourite ways of cooking any sort of whole fish, it’s easy and results in moist fish which just falls off the bone. We kept it simple flavour-wise; mackerel is beautiful with stronger flavours like harissa but for this meal we used lemon thyme, a few slices of fresh lemon and some salt and pepper.
To start give the fish a quick wash under cold water and dab dry with some kitchen paper. When you’re buying whole, fresh fish then the main things that we look for are a good shine on the scales/skin, red gills and bright eyes, not dull or clouded over. Once the fish is washed lay it on a chopping board and make 2 or 3 slashes into the flesh down the sides, cut right down to the bone. This will help the fish cook evenly, and make it easy to get any lovely flavours into the fish. We placed a couple of small sprigs of lemon thyme in the slashes and then a couple more sprigs inside the cavity along with a couple of thin slices of lemon. We then seasoned the skin on both sides with sea salt and black pepper.
Now grab yourself a length of kitchen foil (about 50cm). Put the fish in the middle of it and bring the foil up to form a bag, rolling the edges over several times to get a tight seal while leaving a good bit of space around the fish so it can steam. An average-sized mackerel will take about 20-25 minutes to steam in the oven at 180-200°C – remember that it’s cooking from cold and will take a while to start steaming.
Serve with whatever you like! We had ours with some roasted baby potatoes, and then asparagus and tender stem broccoli which we blanched for 30 seconds and then whacked in the oven with the potatoes to finish cooking – they retain some bite this way and get a little crisp on the ends. To eat our fish we get a large plate ready for the bones and scrape the top fillet off (the meat should fall off the bones), then pick the whole of the skeleton up from the tail end and slowly peel away which should leave the bottom fillet with very few bones still in it… easy!