According to its appearance, mackerel is easy to recognise in fisher’s shops since it has clear, dark blue, almost black colour, stripes on its skin, it is silver on its belly and the skin is increasingly blue towards the back fins. Methods of preserving mackerel are varying; one can use smoke, oil or salt. To preserve mackerel, people always prepare it in form of fillets as it has very fine and lean meat as all other blue fish.
When preparing mackerel, it is advisable to marinate its meat well in olive oil and lemon juice so that it keeps moisture even after being thermally processed. Except as grilled, mackerel is perfect in salads, and its fillets are first-class addition to pasta or cold Mediterranean starters. Mediterranean food products such as capers, crithmum, Mediterranean spices, pine nuts, tomatoes, and strong cheese such as goat’s or sheep’s milk cheese fit best to mackerel.
This Adriatic delicacy is also willingly prepared by inland restaurants. When fresh catch arrives in the Sisak market, everybody knows what the family-run Barun Restaurant, located in the very centre of town, will prepare – grilled mackerel. We were told how they prepare it by Dejan Topalović, the owner.
"We always prepare whole mackerel, and we grill it because it is blue and high quality fish, and its taste and composition should be preserved as much as possible. Before we put it on the grill, we always marinate it. The marinade includes finely chopped parsley, celery leaves, garlic, grated lemon peel and lemon juice, olive oil and coarse salt. We serve boiled potatoes with chard or just potatoes as a side dish with mackerel. Also, we usually slice the mackerel prepared in such a way and add it into a salad. Salads vary according to the season but most often it is lettuce, arugula, cherry tomatoes, pieces of mackerel and salad dressing that we prepare similarly as the marinade."
In its concurrent isolation and connection to the sea culinary routes, a single cuisine has been preserved on the islands. Authentic local food products and abundance of fish, seafood, and aromatic wild plants have turned the islands into small gourmet oases hiding real culinary miracles. The Ugljan Island is a typical gastronomic story, a part of which is the family-run Apollo Restaurant. Of daily catch, they prepare delights by numerous recipes. They often preserve mackerel and other blue fish like chub, bonito or tuna, and how mackerel is preserved was shared with us by its Chef Svemir Luštica.
"We clean one kilogram of fish, remove its offal and put it into one litre of water in which we put 200 g salt and one or two peeled one-piece onions. We boil it all together for about an hour. When it is finished, fish is put into a strainer and left for an hour to cool and seep well. In the meanwhile, in half an hour, the fish should be turned over on the other side. When it has seeped, we dry it in a cloth and start filleting it. Given that they are fragile, we sort fillets gently in a glass jar and then add soya oil and 15-odd peppercorns. We shake it a little all together to allow the oil to permeate the fish and fill the jar evenly. Mackerel preserved in such a way can be stored for up to six months to a year."
At the Apollo, we were also told a rather rare old-time recipe with mackerel, pine nuts, oil and garlic, a sheer Mediterranean magic.
"Mackerel should be filleted fresh so that we get a butterfly form out of it. We should remove all the bones, large and small, the head, and the tail shall remain. For this recipe, we use a mackerel of the size of a “pedalj” (hand span), that is an old term for measure. We pour wine on the fish filleted in such a way and add chopped parsley, pine nuts crushed in mortar and pestle, finely cut fennel leaves, mint, then a little salt and black pepper. We sometimes also put cut dried tomatoes or goat’s milk cheese in the topping. We spread the topping from the upper, wide side leaving the tail for the end, and over the meat. When we have smeared it all, we roll the mackerel and put it into the oven to roast for 15 to 20 minutes. When finished, we serve it by putting olive oil over it and sprinkle chopped preserved crithmum, and optionally some boiled potatoes."
In the abundance of heavy and high calorie delicacies that are prepared in the upcoming days, surprise yourself and your beloved with a healthy and light fish dish. Mackerel is esteemed fish, and fishers have always kept it especially for lunch. With a glass of good wine and some new spice, mackerel will show you its culinary values very quickly.