Just like meat, the proteins and enzymes that are released post-mortem have an effect on flavour and textureby Wendell Steavenson / August 20, 2015 / Leave a comment
Family summer holiday in Cornwall. The usual early morning mizzle gave way to blue sky. Nine Steavensons and a couple of friends went mackerel fishing. The oldest among us was 80, the youngest was three. We chugged out of the Camel Estuary past Padstow into the near Atlantic where the deep blue sea rose and fell in rolling swells. The nice fisherman showed us how to hook the fishing poles through our elbows, let the weighted lines run out and jerk the line while reeling in to simulate the movements of small fish as bait. Alessandro, who is Italian and had never seen a mackerel before, had beginner’s luck and landed one straight away. It flapped on the deck flashing silver with green blue iridescent tiger striping along its back. I wanted to eat it immediately, culinary curious—how does the freshest possible fresh fish taste?
The mackerel was a taut slippery torpedo and difficult to grip. The fisherman looked on a little aghast: “Raw? I would better grill it nicely with a little butter!” But he leant me a knife and watched as I laid the mackerel on the top of the cooler box and sliced a wedge of fillet. The tail slapped.
“It’s still alive!” cried Adrien, appalled. The flesh was soft like gelatinous butter and the colour of blushing putty. I gingerly put a sliver in my mouth. “I can’t believe you’re eating it while it’s still alive!” Henry, who is eight, made a grimace; Orla, his little sister was already heaving over the side.
“It’s amazing!” I said. It was. It wasn’t at all like the shaved fillets of sashimi or carpaccio I was used to. The texture was squashy and creamy; the taste was a delicate rendering of essential elements: sea and blood and iron.
“Mackerel is my favourite fish,” Nathan Outlaw told me when I visited him in his new restaurant in Port Isaac a few days later. Outlaw is the only British chef with a Michelin-starred fish restaurant, and it is two-starred. “Mackerel is a fish you should eat as soon as you catch it. Sprats, herring, sardines, anchovies are all the same family and the fresher the better. I’ve had mackerel straight out of the sea, cured in sea water for…