Baked Mackerel with Pernod, Pine Kernel and Dill Sauce

With its shimmering midnight-blue and deep-green skin, striped in waves of velvet black, the mackerel is a beautiful fish. It is also very nutritious, smooth and melting in consistency, rich in flavour and inexpensive — a word that applies to few fish nowadays.

Mackerel should be absolutely fresh; avoid any with dull, sunken eyes or less than shiny skin. Ask the fishmonger to clean and gut the fish but to leave the heads on.

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 3-4 pinches cayenne pepper
  • handful fresh dill, finely chopped
  • 2 large mackerel, 450-675 g/1-1½ lb each, cleaned and gutted
  • 2 small lemons
  • 1 small red onion
  • 125 ml/4 fl oz Pernod
  • 15 g/2 oz pine kernels
  • 150 ml/¼ pint double cream
  • salt
  • black pepper

Method

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas mark 6. Generously butter a large piece of foil — large enough to wrap the fish in — and place it in a large roasting pan. In a bowl, mix together the coriander, paprika, cayenne pepper, 1 tablespoon of the dill and a sprinkling of salt. Sprinkle some of this mixture inside the gutted fish and rub the rest over the skin. Lay the fish on the buttered foil.

Slice the lemons across very thinly. Peel the onion and slice it as thinly as possible into rings; use a food processor if you have one. Arrange the lemon and onion slices alternately underneath and on top of the fish. Bring the foil up a little and pour the Pernod gently over the fish. Then wrap it up completely in the foil and bake in the centre of the oven for 30-40 minutes. Meanwhile, toast the pine kernels over a high heat in a dry frying pan for a minute or two until browned. Keep on one side.

To check whether the fish is cooked, insert a small knife to see if the flesh is opaque to the bone. Unwrap one end of the foil and pour the juices out into a saucepan. Then unwrap the foil completely and push the mackerel gently on to a large warmed serving dish. Arrange the lemon and onion slices on and around the fish. Pour the cream into the saucepan with the juices and add the toasted pine kernels and the remaining chopped dill. Bring to the boil and bubble for a minute. Season to taste with black pepper and more salt if necessary. Pour the sauce into a jug to serve with the fish.

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