Saturday, October 29, 2016

Mackerel, You Sexy Bastard

In Defense of Sardines, Herring, and Other Maligned "Fishy" Fish

[ed. I've been on a sardine kick for some time now. It's surprising how good they are right out of the tin (get good quality, it's not that expensive). With some sliced salami, a little cheese and crackers, maybe some olives, hard-boiled eggs and a cold beer - doesn't get much better than that. They also make a subtle and interesting addition to marinara sauce, curry, and even simple fried eggs. See also: Mackerel, Milder Than Salmon and Just as Delectable.]

Food writer Mark Bittman once called mackerel the Rodney Dangerfield of fish—it gets no respect. I stand guilty; my true love of mackerel and other oily fish began only after trying some pickled mackerel (saba) nigiri at Maneki a few years back.

I remember being surprised at how much I enjoyed the nigiri, how much the acidity of the vinegar balanced out the strong, sweet meatiness of the mackerel. I stared down at what was left of the silvery morsel on my plate as if seeing it for the first time. Why hadn't I noticed you before, angel? Were you hiding under another fucking California roll?

I didn't realize that fish could do more. A youth of Mrs. Paul's frozen breaded cod fillets does not exactly challenge the palate, and even the tougher meat of the catfish I enjoyed as a kid in southeast Texas was still comparatively mild and buried under breading. Because I was accustomed to and expected fish to taste this way, it took me longer to accept the more flavorful oily fish like mackerel, sardines, and herring—fish that some decry as tasting too "fishy." But here's what I've never understood: Does "fishy" mean it tastes like it's rancid or that it just tastes too much like fish? And if it's the latter, what's wrong with that?

Oily fish shouldn't taste like it's gone bad, but it shouldn't taste like cod, either. Accept and love it for the funky bastard that it is.

Some people can maintain an egalitarian approach to fish—love both the cod and the mackerel, appreciate what each of our little aquatic pals brings to the table. But after that saba nigiri, I couldn't. It wasn't even about this kind of fish's relative affordability, lower mercury levels, or boost of omega-3 fatty acids. That saba made me switch sides, man. The more oily fish I ate, the more I started to think of cod and halibut as the reliable but boring date sitting across from you at a bar. Nice, but needs more breading. Maybe a side of tartar. Mackerel, sardines, herring, and anchovies felt adventurous and unpredictable, not like they were relying on a shit-ton of b├ęchamel to make them more interesting. What would they add to the dish? How would they change the night? Danger Mouse, which way are we going? Can I hop on your motorcycle? (...)

"Sardines are usually overlooked," he tells me over the phone. "Fresh sardines are hard to come by, because they're mostly harvested in the South Pacific and the Mediterranean, the warmer waters, and they're almost always packaged immediately after being harvested." People get turned off by that tin, he says. But while fresh is amazing, don't discount a good tin of canned sardines. "Sardines have the meaty, steaky texture of tuna with the oily umami of mackerel and anchovies."

Currently, Wilson serves a warm bruschetta of grilled sardines with a zingy olive-caper tapenade and feta on semolina toast, grilled sardines on arugula and shaved fennel with a spicy Calabrian chile–caper relish, and my favorite, whipped sardine butter with Grand Central's Como bread. Who knew sardines and compound butter were so good together? The umami of the sardines added another savory level of flavor to the butter, and I started imagining what it could bring to a sandwich. I wish they had served it with the bread warmed up. I took it with me, announcing to friends "I have sardine butter in my bag" like I was smuggling black-market caviar. I slathered it on toast. I fried it up with eggs. I debated just sucking it off my knuckles.

by Corina Zappia, The Stranger | Read more:
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