I've just finished doing my taxes all by myself for the very first time without the help of tax consultants or my grumpy father or hallucinogenic drugs and I am so (naturally) high from the experience that it's all I can do to keep myself from levitating off my desk chair and into the atmosphere, aglow with glee that at the age of 28 I have finally mastered mathematical problems first introduced to me in the third grade (second? first?). Of course, I still haven't figured out which form gets which attachment and this hiccup is threatening to tear my glorious day of achievement into a shredded pile of misfortune and disgrace, so before I dwell on that too long and tear into Every.Single.Last.Cuticle.I.Own, I'd like to segue into something far more interesting for all of us. Stinky fish!
Last summer, in a time before this blog existed - when it was still just a twinkle in my eye - Ben and I got into a car and drove 850 miles from New York City to Prince Edward Island. Yes, on our very first vacation together, we went on a roadtrip to Canada and rented a house in the most godforsaken part of that island, where there were no people and even fewer animals. Somehow, our relationship survived. On that trip, between the lupines and the lobsters, I learned the fine art of killing helpless creatures: Ben took me fishing.
It was an interesting experience, to say the least. But before I embark on any misbegotten attempts to come anywhere close to the glory of this article, I'll just say that at first I wanted to cry each time my hook snagged a little fish's cheek (or eye, but hey, who's counting), but soon, when the other fishers' buckets were half-full and I still had nothing to show for my efforts, I started casting my line out with a vengeance. Who were these damn fish that did not want to die by my hands? I'd get them, and show them. At the end of the trip, Ben and I were given a little plastic sack of cleaned and filleted fish (and told they were mackerel - aha!) and we noodled back to our farmhouse to get cooking.
After all, what better way to bookend a day spent at sea, fishing and carousing with other like-minded folks (the French-Canadians on our boat were madmen: they must have caught close to 200 fish. To put this in perspective, Ben and I took home about 10, though to Ben's credit, he threw most of his haul away before they succumbed on deck, in deference to the look of sheer terror on my face everytime a flopping creature impaled itself on my hook), but by frying up those little suckers in well-seasoned cast-iron pans hanging sweetly on our kitchen wall?
The small problem was that once we were home (in a house that smelled of four centuries of cat urine - too bad www.cyberrentals.com doesn't come with a scratch'n'sniff feature), Ben's killer instinct went flying out the window and out of pity he couldn't bring himself to eat the floured and fried mackerel. Of course, it might have also had something to do with the intensely fishy aroma floating about the house and mingling with the afore-mentioned feline stench. Who knows, the point is, we barely made a dent in the pile of fish and couldn't banish the memory of eating mackerel from our minds soon enough.
Unfortunately, we did such a good job with that self-imposed amnesia that 8 months later, when presented with a recipe for mackerel, I didn't remember how much I disliked it. I prepared Nigel Slater's recipe for mackerel (an under-eaten fish, according to him - chockful of important oils, according to Science) that Julie Powell wrote about in the New York Times Magazine a few weekends ago. It certainly sounded up my alley, and it was, to a certain degree. But for that stinky, godforsaken fish.
Make the breadcrumb topping, by all means. It's smoky and crumbly and savory with softened onions and raw garlic. But use a different fish. Because the topping is so plentiful (in that picture up there, can you even see the fish? Exactly. It's all topping, all the time) and so flavorful that you can easily substitute any kind of fish (like cod! It'd be perfection with cod) and have a great time eating it. I used a little less olive oil than called for, and my Spanish paprika was smoked, but not hot: the topping still tasted delicious.
And now I'm taking myself, my out-of-control parentheses and punctuation, and my tax-addled brain for a long walk in which I think about nothing but how much the IRS can suck it.
Spiced Crumbed Mackerel with Smoked Paprika
5 tablespoons olive oil plus more for oiling baking dish
4 mackerel fillets, pin bones removed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 onion, thinly sliced into rings
½ cup chopped parsley
3 small garlic cloves, minced
½ teaspoon hot smoked paprika
1 ¼ cups fresh bread crumbs
1 lemon, halved.
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil a baking dish large enough to hold the fillets in a single layer. Rinse and dry the mackerel, then lay skin-side down in the baking dish. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
2. In a sauté pan over medium heat, pour in 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the onion and sauté until softened. Remove from heat and add the parsley, garlic and paprika. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the bread crumbs and 3 tablespoons olive oil.
3. Spoon the spiced bread crumbs evenly over the fillets. Bake until the bread crumbs are golden and the fish is opaque and tender, about 20 minutes. Squeeze lemon juice over each fillet, and serve.