On hot days, a serving of oven-grilled mackerel makes for a light, nutritious meal. One that doesn’t demand long hours in the kitchen. What makes this dish for me, is the tangy and herbaceous chermoula, generally slathered over the fish. Teamed with a helping of garlic-fried spinach, this plate of oven-grilled mackerel leaves you feeling sated, not stuffed.
How to make chermoula
Chermoula is a North African marinade/condiment eaten mainly by fishing communities, who stuff their sardines and mackerel with it. It’s made with fresh coriander, flat-leaf parsley, garlic, lemon juice, red chillies, cumin, saffron and olive oil but each country has its version with one or two extra ingredients. Tunisians add black raisins, Moroccans use preserved lemons, whereas it’s made with olives and tuna in Libya. Some versions even have cloves, cinnamon and other spices. Whatever the variation, chermoula is a fragrant, smoky, herb-green, tangy marinade that perfectly complements oily fish such as mackerel. It reminds me a little of our own varieties of hara masala (green masala paste) used to stuff fish.
The quantity of chermoula that my recipe makes is more than what you’ll need for the oven-grilled mackerel. It keeps well in the fridge and like me, you can spread it in sandwiches, wraps or on flatbreads , serve it as a party dip, swirl it into hummus, or some mayo, dollop it over roasted vegetables or even over a soup for some zing. It’s amazingly versatile for something that just requires you to whizz up the ingredients in the food processor.
How to prepare the mackerel
For oven-grilled mackerel, the fish must be prepped and marinated for about 30 minutes before being cooked. It must be left whole, you can choose to keep the head if you wish. Ask your fishmonger to make a thin slit on the side to remove the gut. Wash the fish, dry on paper towels and make a couple of gashes on each side of the fish to allow the flavours of the chermoula to go through. Marinate the fish for an hour.
Before gilling the fish in the oven, I like to sear it very quickly in a pan, just for about 30 seconds on each side. If you decide to barbecue the fish, skip this step and place it directly on the grill. Once seared, place mackerel on a sheet pan and grill under the broiler. The fish must have a slightly charred, crispy exterior while remaining moist and flaky inside. Extra chermoula may be spread on the fish at the time of serving or served separately on the side.
For me, the best things about oven-grilled mackerel are that
- Mackerel are delicious, with the distinctive taste of oily fish, which pairs well with spicy, bright flavours of chermoula.
- They’re relatively inexpensive.
- Mackerel is available easily in most places.
- They’re packed with protein, fatty acids, vitamin B-12, niacin, riboflavin and other micronutrients.
As the mercury touches burning heights this summer, light and easy meals such as this go a long way in keeping our flagging appetites and palates interested.
Oven-Grilled Mackerel With Chermoula
- 4 Mackerel, cleaned, kept whole
- ½ tbsp olive oil
For the chermoula
- 30 g fresh coriander, roughly chopped
- 30 g flatleaf parsely, roughly chopped
- 4 cloves of garlic
- 1 fresh red chilli
- 2 tsp apple cider vinegar
- 1½ tsp cumin seeds, lightly roasted
- 1½ tsp coriander seeds, lightly rosted
- 1½ tbsp paprika
- A small pinch of saffron
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1½ tsp salt
- Juice of 1 lemon
To make the chermoula
- Gently warm the apple cider vinegar and add the saffron. Let it infuse for 5 minutes.
- Combine all the ingredients including the saffron and vinegar in a mortar and pound till you have a rough paste or process in a food processor. The chermoula should be coarsely ground.
- Transfer to an airtight jar and store in the refrigerator.
To make the grilled mackerel
- Coat the mackerel with the chermoula making sure to rub some of the marinade into the slits on the sides of the fish. Marinate for 1 hour.
- Preheat the broiler in the oven to 180°C.
- Heat ½ tbsp olive oil in a pan on medium heat and lightly sear the fish, cooking for no more than 30 seconds on each side.
- Place the fish on a baking sheet and grill in the oven for 15 minutes. Serve with additional chermoula on the side.