Tom Kitchin: Whole mackarel| Smoked eel

Tom Kitchin. Picture: Neil Hanna
Tom Kitchin. Picture: Neil Hanna
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IT’S well known that oil-rich fish is extremely good for you, providing plenty of health-boosting omega-3 and fatty acids. And it can be very simple to prepare.

With so many delicious species to choose from, and a huge number of different recipes to try, it’s easy to create a healthy, simple summer supper.

The difference between oily fish and white fish, is in the way the oil is distributed. Oily fish are those species in which the oil is spread throughout, whereas the oil in white fish is mainly concentrated in the liver. Oil-rich fish species include mackerel, tuna, salmon, trout and eel, as well as smaller fish such as anchovies, herring and sardines. Whichever species you choose, it’s always best to opt for fresh whenever you can, as you’ll get the lovely, succulent, natural flavour that oily, meaty fish is renowned for. Some people are put off cooking fish because of its smell, but if you’re working with fresh fish, the scent shouldn’t be strong.

Mackerel is one of my favourite oily fish. Because it’s small, it’s wonderful to serve it whole and I always think it tastes so much better – like it’s just come straight from the sea and on to the plate. Mackerel is at its best at this time of year so it’s a good time to pop to your local fishmonger and try some different recipes. Fresh heritage tomatoes, summer herbs and olives all give this dish a flavour that will complement the creamy flesh and sweet flavour of mackerel. They are bound to transport you straight to the Mediterranean.

Eel is a less common choice at home, but it’s a lovely, flavoursome fish. It’s a little stronger in flavour than other types of oil-rich fish, but if you prepare it in the right way, and complement the flavour with fresh, light seasonal matches, it can make a fantastic meal. This fish, with its clean, silver flesh, is really popular in a number of French and Spanish dishes. Eel, unlike some other fish which can be flakier, is great to add to stews with tomatoes, onions and wine, like the traditional French freshwater fish stew, matelote.

Lots of recipes that work well for mackerel also work well for eel and vice versa, so feel free to experiment and give these dishes your own twist. At this time of year you can keep your oily fish dishes fresh and light by serving them with seasonal salads and vegetables. Beautiful, colourful ingredients bring the plate to life and complement the strong flavours of the fish without overpowering them. Summer made simple – and healthy.

Whole mackerel with heritage tomatoes and black olive tapenade

Serves 1

1 whole mackerel

3 heritage tomatoes – cut into different shapes and sizes

4 black olives to garnish

basil leaves


For the tapenade:

1 medium garlic clove

4 tbsp capers

200g black olives

sherry vinegar

extra virgin olive oil


black pepper

For the tapenade Combine all of the ingredients in a food processor until they form a paste. Season to taste.

For the mackerel Ask your local fishmonger to scale the mackerel and remove all the guts. Ensure your fish is clean before rubbing it with olive oil, salt and pepper. Place on to a medium heat barbecue and cook for 3-4 minutes on each side. Remove the mackerel from the barbecue and rub with the tapenade.

To serve

Cut the heritage tomatoes into different shapes and sizes and thinly chop 4 black olives into slices. Finely chop a handful of chives. Place the tomatoes, olives, chives and basil leaves on one side of the plate and lay the barbecued mackerel on the other side.

Smoked eel and leek salad

Serves 4

For the leeks:

4 young leeks

olive oil to drizzle

sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

1 bunch of thyme

4 garlic cloves (unpeeled)

50g butter, in pieces

4 x whole smoked eel

85g watercress, large stalks removed

wild herbs

red onion

For the horseradish cream:

175ml soured cream

3 tbsp creamed horseradish

juice 1 lemon

For the leeks

Heat the oven to 160C/Gas Mark 2-3. Remove the outer leaves from the leeks and trim the root end, being careful to keep it intact as this will hold the leek together during cooking.

Make two lengthways cuts through the top third of each leek to access any grit, then wash the leeks thoroughly. Drain and pat dry with kitchen paper.

Lay a large sheet of strong foil in a roasting tin. Place the leeks side by side on the foil, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Scatter over the thyme sprigs and garlic cloves, and dot with the butter. Lay another sheet of foil on top and then fold the edges of the two pieces of foil together to create a sealed parcel. Bake for 1 hour or until the leeks are tender.

For the horseradish cream

Mix together the soured cream, horseradish, lemon juice and some seasoning.

To serve

Once the leeks are cooked, cut in half lengthways and place on the serving plate. Season well with olive oil, salt and pepper. Cut the eel into chunks and place on the leek. Garnish with horseradish cream, red onion, watercress and herbs.