Credit: Earl Carter

Fried mackerel with rhubarb and capers

Annie Smithers is the owner and chef of du Fermier in Trentham, Victoria. Her latest book is Recipe for a Kinder Life. She is a food editor of The Saturday Paper.

Credit: Earl Carter

Slimy. It’s not a word that sounds great on a menu or on a sign in a fishmonger’s window. No wonder the slimy mackerel has been renamed blue mackerel. But as a marketing ploy, it’s not working with the sporting fishermen’s online bulletin boards. They get very indignant every time some celebrity chef cooks or writes a recipe using blue mackerel. As far as the fishermen are concerned, a “slimy” is only worth using for bait.

I beg to disagree. I think it’s a terrific little fish, and it’s not endangered and it’s not expensive. It also has a raft of health benefits. Mackerel contains high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12. It is also high in magnesium, phosphorus and selenium. It could be the poster fish for the health experts suggesting we eat more oily fish in our diet.

Despite the health benefits, however, mackerel has a pretty bad reputation out there in the world. Yes, it is used in cat food. Yes, it is sold in tins that are seen as lesser in quality than tinned tuna and salmon. And yes, even the authors of The Cambridge Economic History of Europe say “There are more references to stinking mackerel in English literature than to any other fish!”

Here, we have a reworking of a fabulous Nigel Slater recipe using our blue mackerel, as opposed to the English variety. I find the flesh of my “slimy” friend not strong at all, and not oily. The flesh is reddish in colour and it is quite an easy fish to fillet. Bringing rhubarb to the plate may seem a curious addition, but the combined sweetness and tartness of rhubarb marries perfectly with the fish.

And it adds a flamboyant touch of pink, which seems to suit my slimy friend, as the term “mackerel” means “marked” or “spotted”, and derives from the old French maquerel, meaning a pimp or procurer.


Serves 4

  • 100g rhubarb
  • 2 tbsp castor sugar
  • a little plain flour
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 slimy mackerel, plate-sized, filleted
  • olive oil
  • a small sprig of summer savory or rosemary
  • 1 tbsp baby capers
  • sherry vinegar
  1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC.
  2. Trim the leaves and the ends from the rhubarb, cut the stalks into 15-centimetre lengths and place in a baking dish with the sugar. Bake for about 15 minutes or until the rhubarb is soft but still holding its shape.
  3. Put a small amount of flour on a plate and season with salt and a little pepper. Lightly coat the mackerel fillets with the seasoned flour.
  4. Heat a little oil in a large, non-stick frying pan. Gently place the mackerel fillets in the hot pan, skin-side down. Chop the summer savory or rosemary leaves and scatter them over the fish. Press the fish down with a spatula to keep it flat.
  5. As the skin side of the fish starts to crisp lightly, carefully turn over and cook the other side. It should only take a couple of minutes on the skin side and less than a minute on the flesh side.
  6. As soon as the mackerel is turned, pop the rhubarb in the pan next to the fish with its cooking juices and scatter with capers. Lift the mackerel fillets and rhubarb out of the pan and onto plates.
  7. Pour about a tablespoon of sherry vinegar into the pan, return to the heat briefly, swirling it around to combine with the liquid from the rhubarb and pour over the fish.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on March 30, 2019 as "Slimy pickings".

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