The kitchen can be a bit hectic whilst cooking four fishy recipes at once, so I maybe possibly forgot to take a proper picture of this dish. Still, whilst the above snap might not be the best looking, you can see enough to know that this week, we're drowning our mackerel in cheese.
Listen! Do you hear that? That's the sound of millions of Italians gasping in horror! And what's that? Why, it's the chef from Philemon's Soldier complaining once more about fish 'drugged senseless with cheese'. See, for some reason, fish and cheese just isn't done - cookbooks warn against it, and restaurants never offer it. Thus, it is with some hesitancy that I approach this week's recipe. Should we be worried? Did the fish-lovers of ancient Athens really have it all wrong? There's only one way to find out.
Baked Mackerel and Cheese
(Serves 1 as a main, or several as a starter)
"Cook: Do you know how to cook mackerel?
Slave: I would if you'd just tell me!
Cook: Cut out the gills, wash it, chop off the fins and spines, then split it in half and spread it out nicely. Whip it well with silphium, then cover it in cheese, salt, and marjoram."
-Alexis 138, as recorded in Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae, 322c-d
- 1 Fresh Mackerel (or Un-Smoked Mackerel Fillets)
- 1/2 tsp Salt
- 1 tsp Asafoetida
- Some Hard Italian Cheese (Gran Padano, Parmesan, Pecorino Romano)
- Fresh or Dried Marjoram or Rosemary
- For this dish it's best to use the whole fish, skin and all, rather than just the fillets. You want to chop the head off, take out the spine, and lay the fish out flat, skin side down. For an idea of how to handle mackerel, please watch this video.
- Sprinkle the salt and asafoetida all over the fish.
- Grate as much cheese as is needed to cover the little critter. Roughly mix this cheese with whatever herbs you've decided to use, and set atop the fish.
- Onto a greased baking tray, and into a preheated oven for 15-20 minutes at 180 Celsius. Job done!
To all those waiting with baited breath, scared that the cheese would overpower the fish, you can relax. Your fears about combining these two ingredients were, in this case at least, unfounded. It was still very apparent that this was mackerel we were eating, the fishiness not lost to the pungency of the asafoetida and cheese. All in all it tasted nice, but just nice - this isn't something to write home about. I think part of the reason was that the dried herbs got lost somewhere along the way, when really they should have been there to cut through the oiliness of the whole affair. For future efforts I would be inclined to use fresh rosemary instead. Baked Mackerel and Cheese is certainly worth a try, if only the once.