Mackerel with Pickled Apples, Cucumber and Celery
Mackerel with Pickled Apples, Cucumber and Celery

Mackerel with Pickled Apples, Cucumber and Celery

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    Serves 4 as a starter or 2 as a light lunch
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This starter was very popular at the British Larder pub, easy to prepare and serve for larger parties. It’s a contrasting dish in many ways with different textures and flavours as well as warm and cold elements. Using natural yoghurt as a dressing gives the dish a dynamic cleansing twist and is a perfect way to start a great meal.

At the beginning of the apple season, I prefer to use Discovery apples, as I like their tangy sweetness and their blush red colour, but later on we then change to Cox’s, which are also perfect. Both these varieties keep their shape when placed in a warm pickling liquid and the acid-sweet balance is perfect for the mackerel.

For the mackerel, I use a combination of fresh and smoked mackerel. Some of the fresh mackerel is mixed with the smoked mackerel to make rillettes, and then the rest of the fresh mackerel is pan-fried and served warm. The pickled cucumber and celery, along with the apple, bring acidity, sweetness and texture to the dish. The candied sunflower seeds are great fun and complete the dish perfectly. I really enjoy the contrasts in flavours and textures of this dish, so I hope you do too.

This dish is a great starter or you can serve double size portions for a light lunch for of Mackerel with Pickled Apples, Cucumber and Celery

Ingredients & Method

For the pickled apples, cucumber and celery

  • 100g caster sugar
  • 100ml white wine vinegar
  • 1 cucumber
  • 2 sticks celery
  • 2 large eating apples (such as Discovery or Cox’s)
  • sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

For the candied sunflower seeds

  • 50g sunflower seeds
  • 1 teaspoon unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon clear runny honey
  • a pinch of mild curry powder
  • a pinch of sea salt

For the yoghurt sauce

  • 150g natural yoghurt
  • finely grated zest and juice of 1 lime

For the mackerel rillettes and pan-fried mackerel

  • 200g smoked mackerel
  • 1 tablespoon mascarpone cheese
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mixed herbs (such as chives, chervil, dill and parsley)
  • finely grated zest and juice of 1 lime
  • 5 fresh mackerel fillets, skin on, scales and pinbones removed
  • 2 teaspoons rapeseed oil

First prepare the pickled apples, cucumber and celery. Place the sugar, vinegar and salt and pepper in a small saucepan over a medium heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved, then increase the heat and simmer for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave to cool. Divide the pickling liquor evenly between 2 bowls and set aside.

Peel the cucumber and peel or de-string the celery. Thinly slice the celery widthways and place in one bowl of the pickling liquor. Use a small melon baller to scoop out balls from the cucumber (avoiding the seeds), then add these to the celery pickling liquor and stir. Leave to marinade until needed – they are ready to use in 10 minutes (see Cook’s Notes).

Remove the core from the apples using a corer (keep the apples whole), then use a mandoline to slice the apples into 2mm-thick slices. Place the apple slices in the second bowl of pickling liquor. Leave to marinade until needed – they are also ready to use in 10 minutes (see Cook’s Notes).

Meanwhile, make the candied sunflower seeds. Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4 and line a baking tray with non-stick baking paper. Mix all the ingredients together in a small bowl and spread out on the prepared baking tray. Bake in the oven for 6–8 minutes, until golden brown and toasted, (the mixture will still be soft at this stage, but once cooled completely, the seeds will become crisp). The seeds can be made in advance (see Cook’s Notes).

For the yoghurt sauce, mix the ingredients together in a bowl, season to taste with salt and pepper, then cover and chill until needed.

Next prepare the mackerel rillettes. Remove and discard the skin and bones from the smoked mackerel, place the flesh in a small bowl, then add the mascarpone, herbs and lime zest and juice, season with salt and pepper and stir to mix. Take 1 raw mackerel fillet, remove the skin and dice the flesh very small. Add this to the smoked mackerel mixture, stir to mix and adjust the seasoning to taste. Cover and chill until you are ready to serve (the rillette mixture should not be made too far in advance; it is best made fresh and served on the same day).

For the pan-fried mackerel, score the skin of the remaining 4 mackerel fillets with a sharp knife but do not cut all the way through. Heat the oil in a large non-stick frying pan over a medium heat until hot. Season the mackerel fillets with salt and pepper, then place them, skin-side down, in the pan and cook for 3 minutes (the skin should become golden brown and crispy). Flip the fish over and cook for a further 1 minute, then drain on kitchen paper.

To serve, spread some of the yoghurt sauce on each plate, dividing it evenly. Drain the pickled apples, celery and cucumber (see Cook’s Notes). Place one apple slice on each plate, place a large spoonful of the mackerel rillettes on top and then top with another slice of pickled apple. Arrange the cucumber and celery on the plates and then place one pan-fried mackerel fillet on each plate. Sprinkle with the candied sunflower seeds and serve immediately.

Cook’s Notes

I prefer to make the pickles on the same day as serving, but they can be made in advance, however, the pickled taste will be stronger. If you make them in advance, remove from the fridge 30 minutes before serving for the best flavour. Keep any leftover pickles in the pickling liquid in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days.They are also delicious tossed into a salad and served with cold cuts of meat.

If you want to make a larger batch, the candied sunflower seeds will keep for up to 1 week in an airtight container. They are great for sprinkling over salads, soups and baked potatoes, or simply for snacking on.