HOLY MACKEREL

Added on by Steven Casale.

Spring in New York (also known as summer) has finally arrived. As the season goes from cool to not-so-cool I crave lighter food, but I still want to make the best use out of my oven before I absolutely cannot turn it on during summer's sweltering heat.

Fish is always at the top of my list. Whenever I see whole grilled fish (eyes and all) on restaurant menus, I can't help but make one of those babies mine. There's something wonderful about interacting with your food in the way that a whole fish requires — picking the occasional bone out of your mouth, drizzling the meat with olive oil and lemon juice, and yes, popping out the eyes for that satisfying final bite.

Lacking a grill, the oven was my next best (and only) option. I bought a slender Spanish mackerel at the fish market. I like mackerel because it cooks quickly, and as an oily fish, it's a great source of omega-3 fatty acids. It doesn't need a lot of help as far as seasonings go. The recipe that follows shows how a few simple flavors can easily complement a fish that's already pretty rich on its own.

Roasted Whole Mackerel with Citrus and Herbs
Serves 1-2

1 (2 to 3-lb) mackerel, gutted and scaled
Extra virgin olive oil (a Portuguese variety works nicely)
1 lemon, sliced
1 lime, sliced
Thyme
Parsley
Sea salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 500°F and place a baking sheet on the center rack. Liberally drizzle the fish with olive oil on both sides and sprinkle the inside with a generous amount of salt. Stuff the cavity of the fish with the lemon, lime, and herbs. 

By now the baking sheet should be piping hot. Place the fish carefully on it and quickly close the oven door, so as not to let any heat escape. The fish should sizzle. Lower the heat for 450°F and cook for 20 to 30 minutes. You should able to tell when the fish is cooked once its eyes are white and the meat surrounding its head is firm to the touch. Morbidity at its finest. 

Remove the baking sheet and let the fish rest for a few minutes. Serve fish with wedges of lime and lemon, as well as some olive oil for drizzling. 

Wine pairing suggestion: Oily fish, like mackerel or sardines, need white wine that can stand up to the "dark meat" aspects of their flavor. A Bordeaux Blanc, such as the 2013 Jean Medeville, pairs perfectly. Standard for the Bordeaux region, whites are typically a blend of herbaceous, biting Sauvignon Blanc with creamy Sémillon added for softness. This medium-bodied wine has grapefruit notes with some lush ripe melon and pear on the palate, and smooth, dry finish.

Photo: Flickr/madpole