Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Holy Mackerel

For all my complaining about the lack of fresh ingredients in winter, you'd think that by the time summer rolled around I'd be cooking incessantly. But the great irony of our warmest season is that the overwhelmingly abundant produce is already so perfect that I find myself unwilling to do much to it at all. The tomatoes that I've spent nine months pining for typically prove to be well worth the wait—sweet and juicy with just a hint of that signature tomato acidity. Why mar their already candy-like flavor with heat when popping them straight into your mouth is so easy and free of dirty dishes?

My answer to this laziness is to put enough great summer ingredients together so that it looks like you've cooked-up something delicious, when you've only just assembled a bunch of perfectly delicious stuff. But if you're looking to easily (and convincingly) make a full meal out of naked summer produce, there's no better foil than bluefish. It's flavorful, abundant (cheap!), and quick-cooking. Spanish mackerel is a personal favorite, with just a few easily picked-out pin bones running down the center of each filet, and beautiful bright yellow spots down the middle. I like a simple pan-to-oven preparation (a restaurant trick that works just as well in every home) that makes for crispy skin, moist meat, and takes less than 10 minutes. 

As for those barely-touched summer veggies, I like to go southern European-style with a simple tomato-herb salad and roasted baby summer squash (no chopping necessary). For the salad I used sungold tomatoes, the sweetest variety of cherry tomatoes (and my all-time favorite bit of summer produce), along with finely sliced basil and sorrel, a healthy squeeze of lime juice and plenty of salt and pepper. The squash couldn't be easier, tossed whole with extra virgin olive oil, basil, salt and pepper, then roasted in the oven. What's great about this dish is that everything comes together while another element cooks. While the squash roasts, the salad comes together in a flash and the fish is pan roasted (skin side only) for less than two minutes and into the oven for about five. For a half an hour of cooking and prep you get a simple and fresh dinner. Minimal effort, maximum flavor and dinner is...done.

Spanish Mackerel with Tomato-Herb Salad and Roasted Courgettes
serves 2

14 small courgettes
1 pint sungold cherry tomatoes, halved
1 cup basil, divided, finely sliced 
3 sorrel leaves, finely sliced
2 Spanish mackerel filets, pin bones removed
1 lime
extra virgin olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Season the halved tomatoes with salt and pepper and set aside.

2. Finely chop half of the sliced basil and place in a large bowl with the courgettes, extra virgin olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Toss to coat. Spread the courgettes out onto an aluminum foil-lined, rimmed baking sheet. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes or until tender.

2. Meanwhile, add 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, juice of half the lime, sorrel and remaining sliced basil to the tomatoes. Toss to coat. Set aside.

3. When there's about 10 minutes left for the courgettes, heat a teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil in an oven safe, non-stick skillet, over medium heat. Season the fish with salt and pepper on both sides and add to the skillet, skin side down. Cook until skin is just starting to crisp and brown around the edges, about 1 minute. Flip fish over and transfer skillet to oven. Cook another 5-6 minutes or until fish is just white and opaque. Serve over the courgettes with tomato salad on the side. Enjoy!


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