Saturday, July 21, 2012


Fillets of mackerel, a good substitute for tuna.
A couple weeks ago I wrote about the guilty pleasure of eating fresh bluefin tuna. I made some half-hearted promises not to buy the endangered fish again. So far, I’m honoring that pledge.

This week at the fish market, alongside the slab of gleaming tuna, were large-sized mackerel, another blue fish. Weighing in at about 3 pounds, this was a meaty alternative to the forbidden.

While the mackerel (caballa in Spanish) would have been delicious simply grilled, I chose a recipe I had tasted in Sanlúcar de la Barrameda, a marvelous town on the Cádiz coast, where the Guadalquivir River empties into the Atlantic.

Besides superb seafood, Sanlúcar is known for good vegetables and, of course, manzanilla, its particular style of dry Sherry. Imagine a fisherman’s wife inventing this delicious dish with the remains of the day’s catch, fresh vegetables from her kitchen garden and a splash of the local manzanilla. With bread, rice or noodles it easily makes a main dish.

The vegetable melange is called pisto. In the summer it consists of eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes and peppers, but it can also be made with green beans, pumpkin, carrots and potatoes. (There is another recipe for pisto here.)

The fish vendor, María, was happy to remove the head and spine from the mackerel, but that left the fiddly smaller bones. She suggested giving the fish a turn on the plancha (flat grill pan). Then it would be easier to remove remaining bones and skin and to cut it into chunks to add to the pisto.

Bluefish fillets are a good substitute for mackerel. 

Meaty mackerel with pisto, a melange of summer vegetables.

Fisherman’s Wife’s Vegetable and Mackerel Dish
Pisto a la Marinera

Serves 4 to 6.

2 pounds mackerel fillets
Salt and pepper
¼ cup olive oil
1 medium eggplant, peeled and cut into 1-inch dice
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 green or red bell pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 medium zucchini, cut into 1-inch dice
2 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
¼ cup manzanilla or fino Sherry
¼ cup water
1 bay leaf
1 sprig parsley
Chopped parsley or mint, to serve

Season fillets with salt and pepper. Brush a flat grill pan/griddle or heavy skillet with oil and heat. Lay the fillets on the grill, flesh side down. When lightly browned, 2 minutes, turn and grill skin-side down for 4 minutes. Remove. Cool slightly. Remove all remaining bones and skin. Cut the fish into large chunks.

In a skillet heat the oil and sauté the eggplant, carrot, pepper, garlic and onion, stirring, for about 5 minutes. Add the zucchini, tomatoes, manzanilla, water, bay leaf, sprig parsley, salt and pepper. Cover and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes, adding additional water if necessary. The vegetables should be juicy, but not soupy.

Add the pieces of mackerel to the vegetables. Cook 5 minutes more. The pisto with fish can be served hot or room temperature. Garnish with parsley or mint.

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