From Adriatico: Stories and recipes from Italy’s Adriatic Coast by Paola Bacchia
(Smith Street Books, September 2018 – AU$ 55, NZ$ 65)
Sgombri in aceto
SERVES 4 AS AN APPETISER
300 g (10½ oz) mackerel fillets (about 900 g/2 lb before cleaning)
250–500 ml (8½ –17 fl oz/ 1–2 cups) white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons finely chopped mint
1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
3 tablespoons good-quality extra virgin olive oil
Wrap the mackerel fillets in a clean piece of fine white cloth (I use pieces of old cotton sheets but you could also use muslin or a tea towel) and tie the ends with string or elastic bands, so it looks like a bon-bon. Place the parcel in a saucepan filled with room-temperature water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer gently for about 2 minutes, then remove the parcel and allow most of the water to drip off it.
Place the parcel of mackerel in a medium ceramic or glass bowl and pour in enough vinegar to cover the fish completely. Set aside for 1 hour.
Combine the mint, garlic and olive oil in a bowl and set aside to steep.
After an hour, remove the parcel from the vinegar and open the ends. Gently remove the fish fillets (take care as they may stick to the cloth and break). They should be mostly white; if they are still very pink, drop them directly into the vinegar and check them in 5–10 minutes. It’s fine if they are pale pink.
Pat the fish dry with paper towel and place on a serving plate. Drizzle with the infused olive oil and season to taste with sea salt.
Fresh mackerel are beautiful fish to look at, with their large eyes and colourful silvery skin. They are plentiful and easily caught in spring, when they approach the shore to eat tiny anchovies.
You might think that marinating the poached fillets in vinegar would make the flavour overwhelmingly acidic, but it’s quite the opposite. It removes any excessive fishiness from the delicate fillets and – when dressed with extra virgin olive oil, garlic and mint – imparts a well-balanced lightness. It is the kind of appetiser you would want to share on the terrace with close friends on a warm summer night over a bottle of crisp Fiano, a white wine typical of the Gargano.
I usually ask my fishmonger to clean the innards from the mackerel, and then fillet them at home, although you could always see if your fishmonger would do the filleting part too. Make sure you remove any bones with fine tweezers – there aren’t many but it’s worth taking the trouble. If you can’t find mackerel, use large sardine fillets instead.