Holy mackerel: Fancy fish and chips with a salty samphire kick

For a real fish supper put samphire in your belly – foraging for it is half the fun

Mackerel with mustard and samphire

Mackerel with mustard and samphire

 

Mackerel season is now peaking. There are usually two waves, the first in May and the second around the end of September. This year there has been a dramatic drop in the amount of mackerel sightings, although numbers have been dwindling for years now.

Scientists from the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans say the spawning population of Atlantic mackerel is down 86 per cent from pre-2000 levels, and the number of fish surviving to breed is at all-time lows.

Coming from the beautiful seaside island of Cobh, I have always seen keen anglers fishing from the piers along the town front. It feels quiet this year, all summer long in fact. The anglers are there but the catch is not. There would usually be full buckets and furore as a catch is being reeled in, but everyone seems to still be patiently waiting.

Reflecting this, I’ve cooked mackerel only once this summer, and chose to use this method of grilling with Dijon mustard. It’s simple, with no fuss, and is the ultimate fish dinner. It’s basically fish and chips – but the best of both – and a handful of delicious salty samphire to top it all off. 

Samphire is a wonderful food to forage for. I recently spied some Moroccan marsh samphire beautifully packaged in a large supermarket, but I could not justify the air miles. Half the fun is in the hunt, so do check your local fishmonger – I got mine in Ballycotton Seafood in Midleton – or keep an eye out next time you are at the seaside.

There are two varieties of this amazing sea vegetable. I spy the hardier rock samphire everywhere along the coastline. It has a fresh, salty, slightly citrus taste and quite a rough texture. But the marsh samphire – also known as sea asparagus – is much more sophisticated.

It’s delicious with poached eggs and hollandaise sauce or used to adorn any simple fish dish. Add a handful to Asian-style soups for added nourishment. My instinct is always to scatter potatoes with sea salt, but there’s no need to season this, as the samphire is salty enough.

MACKEREL WITH MUSTARD AND SAMPHIRE

Serves 4

Ingredients
500g small potatoes, washed
2tbs butter
4 mackerel fillets
2tbs Dijon mustard
2 large handfuls of samphire
150g radish, cut into thin slices

Method
1. Gently place the samphire in a bowl of water and leave to rest. Any sand will drop to the end of the bowl. 

2. Boil the potatoes in water till just cooked. Be careful not to overcook them as you want them to stay firm. Leave to cool slightly before cutting into thick slices. 

3. Place the samphire into a pot of boiling water for 30 seconds, then remove right away and tip into a sieve, and run cold water over it to stop it cooking. 

4. Heat two tablespoons of butter in a wide frying pan. Add the potatoes and fry till crisp and golden. Add the sliced radish and fry for a minute. 

5. Meanwhile turn the grill to high and lay a sheet of tin foil over the grill tray. Place it under the heat to get quite hot. Brush it with a little olive oil, then lay the mackerel fillets, skin-side down, on the foil. Spread the mustard over the fillets and grill for 10-12 minutes, until thoroughly cooked.

6. Add the samphire to the potatoes along with a little more butter. Stir so that the samphire and radish are coated in the butter. No need to season with salt as the samphire is so salty.

7. Divide the potato and samphire among four plates, top with the mackerel and serve with a wedge of lemon.