Grilled mackerel and sumac

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Mackerel, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Fresh, tinned, smoked, raw in sushi; this tasty fish is cheap and relatively sustainable (it’s back on the “fish to eat” list after a brief hiatus). Not only that but since it’s an oily fish it’s healthy too. This simple recipe, with a nod to the Middle East, can be grilled, fried or barbecued and emphasises the mackerel’s natural charms.

Sumac and salt are the key ingredients here. Sumac is a ground berry which has a sour, citrussy taste and seems to be all the rage these days. I got bought this jar for Christmas (my family knows me well) and if you see it is worth picking up. It loses some of its potency in the cooking process and enhances rather than masks the taste of the fish. The salt helps to draw some of the moisture out of the flesh, keeping it dense and meaty when cooking.

Take a fish per person, and either keep it whole and butterflied or split into two fillets as here (get a fishmonger to do this, we’ve gutted them ourselves in the past and while perfectly doable, it gets messy). Grind salt and pepper liberally over the flesh side of each fillet.  Take a teaspoon of sumac and sprinkle over the fish (1/2 a tsp per fish). Then close the fillets together. Drizzle oil over each skin side, and grind over some more salt and pepper. These can then sit for twenty minutes or so while you make the rest of dinner to allow the salt to work its magic.

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Cook over a high heat on each side until the skin blisters. These were grilled under a hot grill for five minutes on each side.

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To continue a vague theme, we served this with bulghur wheat studded with roasted red onions and sesame seeds. Roast a chopped red onion, along with a few cloves of garlic in their skin, for about twenty minutes. Soak a cup of bulghur wheat in enough boiling water to cover, and a stock cube. Toast a tablespoonful of sesame seeds in a dry pan over the highest heat you dare (keep an eye on them). Throw all this together with a sprinkling of cumin. It’ll serve about 4 and keep till the next day in the fridge.

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