Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Mother-in-Law's Spice-Rubbed Roasted Mackerel with Roasted Mediterranean Vegetables

Having a Russian mother-in-law is fun. She smiles whenever I talk to her. She doesn't understand my sarcastic jibes. She (not so) secretly thinks I beat her daughter. She cooks interesting food. What's not to love?

Last summer, Mrs Syktyvkar Sr gave me a small paper cornet of Ukranian dry spice rub, bought on a trip she and Mr Syktyvkar Sr took to Kiev, and (via Mrs Ribeye's translation) explained to me that it should be sprinkled on anything to 'make it taste better'. With a barely concealed sceptical look in my eye, I graciously accepted the package and placed it into my spice rack (actually more of a shelf) in my kitchen when I got home and then totally forgot about it. It's not that I don't believe my mother-in-law, it's just that the Russians are not particularly known for their spicy cuisine.

Last year, on a trip to Mrs Ribeye's homeland, Mrs Syktyvkar Sr fed us about eight times a day. So for the week we were there, Mrs Ribeye and I ate 56 meals and not one of them contained a single spice. Yes, there were fresh herbs - chopped dill (or 'oo-crop', as it is known) seems to find its way into every dish - but spices? No. I tried to buy some dried spices to add to some food that I was cooking for the family, but couldn't find anything beyond black pepper in any supermarket. As Mrs Ribeye says, 'we like to let the flavour of the ingredients speak for themselves.'

Oh, come on! What about a delicious cuzza once in a while?  Or a chilli con carne? Or anything Spanish or, Chinese? I like basic flavours as much as the next guy, but until I went to Russia, I had taken for granted how many tons of dry spices I get through every year. It's not to say my mother-in-law's cooking isn't fab (in fact, we're going back there in a few weeks and I can't wait), but how often can you eat meat, fish and veg flavoured with garlic and dill? A week is fine, but a lifetime?

Anyway, the fact that Mrs Syktyvkar Sr brought me a paper cornet of dry spices touched my heart. Is it maybe a tiny fractional shift towards my Russian family acquiring a taste for spicy food after having come over here and eating some of my more 'exotic' creations? I can only hope and pray.

The rub I was given contains a mysterious blend which might be ground coriander, cumin, fennel, celery seeds and a host of other delights. Make your own, by combining earthy dark spices and roasting them in a dry pan before grinding them up. Any combination will do - experiment.

I used the rub on a mackerel fillet that was left over from my New York Sushi night, and it was a REVELATION. I am not making mackerel again without liberally coating the flesh side with dry spices and then roasting it for a couple of minutes in a searingly hot oven. The oiliness of the fish works brilliantly with the warm muskiness of the spices. Oh, and it's cheap too. I served it with some roasted Mediterranean vegetables, and the whole dish came to a bargain £2.50 per serving.

Serves 2


1 large mackerel, filleted but with the skin left on.
1 tablespoon of dry spice rub - any will do.
Salt and black pepper
500g mixed Mediterranean vegetables - I used courgette, onion, peppers, aubergine and garlic
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 teaspoon of dried basil

Preheat oven to a very hot 250c. Rub the flesh side of the two mackerel fillets with the spice rub and some seasoning and place skin side up on a baking tray, and then set aside. In a roasting tin, toss the vegetables and garlic in the olive oil and dried basil and seasoning. Roast in the hot oven for 45 minutes, or until slightly charred on the edges. About 4-5 minutes before the vegetables are completely cooked, place the mackerel on the top shelf in the oven and cook until the skin is crispy. Do not turn the fish over - the flesh will dry out. remove from the oven and serve with the roasted vegetables.

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