It was chef Adam Wolfers’ penchant for kitchen experimentation that lead him to the perfectly cured Spanish mackerel.
“Our philosophy is always to follow the seasons,” says the chef of Yellow in Potts Point. So when his fishmonger suggested that mackerel was particularly good, Wolfers remembered his experiences with the fish while working in Spain. “ Over there it’s just amazing. Luckily, we’ve found a guy here who treats the fish so well that it’s the same kind of quality I used to get in Spain,” he says. “He line catches the mackerel and uses the Japanese ikejime method to spike the fish through the head and back of the spine. It instantly kills the fish so there’s no stress and no rigor mortis. That helps to highlight the really soft flesh of the mackerel, and it makes a big difference. It’s really important to get fish that is super fresh – caught and prepared within 24 hours.”
Chatting to your fishmonger and letting them know how you intend to use the fish will help secure the right kind of quality for the curing.
“I’d never used mackerel as a cured fish, only cooked,” says Wolfers. “Because it’s spring, I wanted a light, cured fish dish starter – something not too rich – so I thought I’d try curing it. It worked really well, and it has a wonderful and interesting texture. We like to experiment and try new things and techniques all the time – sometimes it pays off. Luckily this time it really did.” Served with sweet sugar snap peas and celtuce, the dish is an embodiment of spring and is included as the starting dish for Yellow’s current tasting menu.
Inspired by the use of citrus, including lime in ceviche dishes, Wolfers uses orange zest in the mackerel cure. He says that in addition to the freshness of the fish, it’s important to make sure you have enough cure to cover the whole fillet really well.
“If you don’t have enough sugar and salt, even with eight hours curing, the proteins in the fish won’t set properly. It’ll go off in a couple of days.” Definitely not the end result you want. “But if the fish comes in and it’s amazing, and you follow all the curing steps and quantities properly, then you know that it’s going to be a really good end product.”
What you'll need
Non-reactive stainless-steel tray
Mortar and pestle
Stainless-steel wire rack
1 side of Spanish Mackerel – 800g skin off
Zest of two oranges
270g fine sugar
330g rock salt
Use a very sharp knife to remove the blood line. Set aside.
Note: the blood line runs up against the bone down the centre of the fish fillet. You will see it as a dark red part up against the white fillet. “You need to take it off because the taste isn’t very nice,” says Wolfers. “It’s easy to see – the rest of the fillet is white and the blood line is dark red.”
Mix the sugar, rock salt and orange zest in a non-reactive stainless steel bowl. Place in a mortar and pestle and crush so the rock salt is broken up.
Spread half the mixture on a tray (ensure there is enough so that the fish can sit directly on it). Place the fish on top of the mixture. Then cover the fish with the remaining mix. Make sure the fish is well covered with the mixture.
Cover with cling film and place in the fridge for a total of 8–10 hours, turning every 2 hours.
Once the fish is firm to the touch, lightly rinse it under cold water and place on absorbent paper to dry.
Wrap the fish in cheesecloth and place in the fridge overnight. The fish should sit close to the fan on a wired rack with a stainless steel tray underneath the rack. This will help the fish to be lightly air dried and make it easier to cut. Spanish mackerel is a very soft-fleshed fish and this is an important step.
Once the fish is cured, it is ready to cut. It can be stored for up to a week in a cryovac bag.