Holy Mackerel! It’s Saint Paddy’s Day

 

Atlantic mackerelHow about something different for Saint Patrick’s Day fare? There is plenty of corned beef hash with boiled cabbage and potatoes on offer at public eateries, ready to be washed down with green dyed light beer, or Guinness and Irish whiskey. This is the first holiday with many bars and restaurants fully open to celebrate since last March. This year, I’m trying other Irish fare: mackerel fish patties made with potatoes, served with fresh baked Irish soda bread. Cabbage will come in shredded as a bed for the fish cakes.

Mackerel is traditional Irish fare.

We all have a basic awareness of the deep connection between the Irish and potatoes, see Famine. You should also have a notion that an island nation has a strong sea fishing tradition. Think of Irish or Aran (Island) sweaters, knit originally to keep the fishermen warm on the cold Atlantic waves. You have that image in mind because these simple but elegant home spun sweaters caught the eye of Vogue editors in the late 1950s.

Steve McQueen, Grace Kelly, both wearing Aran Sweaters in the 1950s.

As Aran sweaters became available for purchase, the publication Vogue took notice of the intricate and masterful patterns. In 1957 Vogue published a knitting pattern for the Aran sweater.

This feature in the internationally published fashion monolith was a major achievement. Within a few short years, the Aran Sweater was suddenly everywhere.

Celebrities began to wear the signature cable and diamond knit patterns in magazines and film, bringing the Aran Sweater to icon status. Notable faces include Grace Kelly, Steve McQueen and the Clancy Brothers on the Ed Sullivan Show.

The Irish mackerel fishery merited its own history, written by a leading Irish marine scientist, John Molloy. However, mackerels, like sardines, have fallen away from the American popular diet. While they are still found on the canned or tinned meats aisle in grocery stores and discount stores, you are unlikely to find them in the frozen, fresh, or smoked fish section. So, mackerels are unlikely to come to mind here as typical Irish fare.

Yet, the Atlantic mackerel is commonly caught by a fishing pole from the shore, as well as commercially fished with nets. Mackerel is still affordable seafood. Its populations have so prospered and spread that new nations have been drawn into disputes over national commercial fishing rights. This is a good problem to have. The relatively small size, shorter life, and prolific populations are key to this fish being a sustainable food source.

In addition to being affordable and sustainable, mackerel are a great source of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. These very oily fish do not last long fresh and so are mostly canned like tuna and salmon or tinned like sardines. Accordingly, the recipes I first found were for ways to eat canned sardines. A note suggested mackerel as a substitute, and I was off to the races.

Irish Mackerel Recipes

Freshly caught mackerel is enjoyed pan-fried, coated with Irish oatmeal. Smoked mackerel can be made into smoked mackerel paté served on crackers or bread, like soda bread. You might even combine two national foods with a few filets of fresh-caught mackerel in a warm mackerel & potato salad. Then there is the traditional Irish mackerel breakfast, consisting of a mackerel fillet and an egg over a slice of toasted Irish soda bread.

But I promised Irish fish cakes, so fish cakes we shall have. An Irish fish cakes recipe immediately cues us to potatoes and fish fillets being the primary ingredients.

1lb of Potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped (I prefer to use the Cultra potato or Kerrs Pinks however any will suffice)
¾ Cod or Hake fillets (or both) – ensure they are fully skinned and boned before cooking
[ . . . ]
1/3 cup of Irish porridge oats

The bulk of the fish cake is a mix of potato and fish. The oats are for coating so the cakes do no stick in the pan. The recipe I adapted was from Chowhound, credit Chris Rochelle. Unfortunately, the staff updated the article to add more recipes but cut out the extra helpful variation by Chris Rochelle for low carb and diabetic cooking. I remember the original article and include this extra information. In addition, I found a recipe for baking fish cakes, making them even healthier.

Here, then, is the combined recipe, my variations in bold.

Ingredients:

2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes OR 1/2 head cauliflower
2 cans sardines, drained and chopped OR 1 10-oz can mackerel
1 cup spring onions, chopped
1/4 bunch fresh dill, chopped OR dry dill or tarragon
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tablespoons grated lemon peel
panko bread crumbs OR yellow cornmeal for coating
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 egg, beaten
olive oil
Instructions:
1. Coarsely chop and boil the potatoes until tender. Drain and mash. OR. Coarsely chop and boil the cauliflower until tender. Drain, squeeze moisture through cloth, mash.
2. Add the sardines, spring onions, dill, garlic, and lemon peel. Season with salt and pepper, then mix in the egg.

//

FRYING

3. Shape the mixture into six 3-inch cakes. Coat with cornmeal.
4. In a nonstick frying pan, add two tablespoons of olive oil and sauté the fish cakes about three at a time, turning them over until they’re golden brown and crispy. Makes 6 cakes.

BAKING
3. PREHEAT OVEN 350F
4. Line a baking tin with parchment paper. Using an ice cream scoop, make small (about 2 inch) balls and set them on the baking tin. Slightly flatten the balls with your hands.

5. bake on the middle rack for about 20- 25 minutes or until lightly golden.
//

I use the Better Homes & Gardens Irish soda bread recipe, substituting sour milk, made with vinegar and skim milk, for buttermilk. Sometimes I toss in some caraway seeds or a bit of Mew Mexico chili powder.

My homemade lemon marmalade, with a little vegetable oil, makes a great dressing for shredded cabbage or mixed greens. Kick it up a notch with a dash of hot sauce.

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  1. Marjorie Reynolds Coolidge
    Marjorie Reynolds
    @MarjorieReynolds

    I love mackerel. Sometimes I just fry a fillet and eat it without anything else. 

    • #1
  2. Doug Kimball Thatcher
    Doug Kimball
    @DougKimball

    We have another word for mackerel: bait.

    The only way I like mackerel  is fresh caught and grilled; the same for bluefish.  When filleting them it is important to carefully avoid puncturing the spinal cord.  Its fluid spoils the flesh.  We would catch them on seven hook jigs baited with plastics and trolled behind a boat.  A trick to track the fish is to tie a bright colored ballon to a six foot monofilament line hooked to a stout, healthy fish.  Then you simply follow the baloon, often catching seven at a time.  And you sell them to the tuna boats or the lobstermen, $3-5 the bushel.

    • #2
  3. CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill Coolidge
    CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill
    @CarolJoy

    Only one question: will the Irish whiskey go with the mackerel as well as it did with the corned beef? (Asking for a friend.)

    • #3
  4. Charles Mark Member
    Charles Mark
    @CharlesMark

    Cultural Appropriation! 

    • #4
  5. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill (View Comment):

    Only one question: will the Irish whiskey go with the mackerel as well as it did with the corned beef? (Asking for a friend.)

    Irish whiskey pairs well with any food, and certainly in moderate amounts it’s fine all by itself.

    • #5
  6. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    Happy St. Patrick’s Day (he said, appropriatingly)! I intend to celebrate by eating corned beef, drinking, and not handling snakes. Roughly in that order. I will avoid getting into a fistfight because I am a selective appropriator of other cultures. I may recite poetry.

    • #6
  7. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    This is where we used to go on our day of arrival in Ireland while trying to get over our jet lag. Our daughter used to live no more than 7-8 km away. There are places on the left to buy fresh fish, and also places to get a bite to eat. Not sure whether our daughter ever picked out any mackerel when we were there, but she may have. She has made us fish cakes, too. Now she lives further north, and a little further from the sea, and no longer within easy walking distance of the sea, but there is a beach where we go walking while trying to get un-jetlagged. Howth

    • #7
  8. Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Democracy) Thatcher
    Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Democracy)
    @GumbyMark

    We also refer to it as Evacuation Day in Suffolk County (Boston), the day the British evacuated the city in 1776.

    • #8
  9. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    Fine post CAB.

    It doesn’t seem to have made You Tube, but Laugh-In had a skit with a couple of nuns in a restaurant. When the server asked for their order, one answered “Two mackerels.”   Funny.

    This is, of course, a reference to the supposedly derogatory term “mackerel-snapper,” which Boston (Irish) Catholics pretty much embraced back in the day when everyone wasn’t mad about everything.  Yeah, we eat fish on Friday.  So what?  Wanna fight?

    • #9
  10. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    Clifford A. Brown: As Aran sweaters became available for purchase, the publication Vogue took notice of the intricate and masterful patterns.

    Those patterns were so intricate and masterful because they delineated the clan, tribe, and family of the wearer.  That way, when the body of the fisherman washed up on the shore after days or weeks at sea, it could still be identified and returned home.

    • #10
  11. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    I love mackerel.  I’ve caught, filleted, salted, and smoked (not that kind of smoked) thousands and thousands of them.

    (although it’s probably cod on the table there; mackerel in the foreground.)

    \

    Fried.  Must be very fresh.  Dip in egg.  Roll in flour or oatmeal.  Fry in a little butter or olive oil.  Serve with spuds.

     

     

    • #11
  12. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown
    @CliffordBrown

    I quickly found cooking videos for fried mackerel from a Ghanaian to Korean perspective. I even found a woman who gets her canned mackerel at the Dollar Tree store, making quick and tasty mackerel croquettes.

    • #12