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Mackerel barbecued over bay

Hugh and Nick's all-time favourite fish for barbecuing is mackerel. This is partly because its firm, slightly oily flesh responds beautifully to the searing, charring heat. But it's also because barbecued mackerel has a certain emotional significance. It s a fish that's plentiful and easy to catch, and they've lost count of the times they've cooked up a good haul of it in the open air, surrounded by family and friends. Tucking bay leaves into the cavity of the fish can impart a subtle flavour but, being big fans of bay, they sometimes really go to town and grill the fish on top of whole branches of it. A word of warning: make sure you take them from a strong, established tree. They once had a young bay shrub that fell foul to an enthusiastic pruning prior to a mackerel barbecue ... it never quite recovered.


Gut your mackerel and rinse with cold water. Pat dry with a clean cloth or kitchen paper, then massage each fish with a few drops of olive oil. Season the mackerel well, inside and out, with salt and pepper.

Make sure your barbecue is hot and ready to cook over. Put the grill over the coals and give it a good few minutes to heat up, then lay a thin bed of bay leaves on the hot grill and lay your mackerel on top of that. Drizzle a little olive oil over the fish and add a squeeze or two of lemon juice. The bay will crackle and pop over the heat of the fire and release lots of perfumed smoke. It's quite normal to see a few shooting flames at this point, too. Don't be alarmed; this is all good and sends the flavour of the bay deep into the fish.

Turn the fish after 5 minutes and cook for a few minutes longer, until the flesh is opaque all the way through.

Serve straight away, with salsa verde if you like, plus a green salad, and some new potatoes lightly bashed and tossed with oil or butter.

Or, for a more simple approach, serve with a lemony mayonnaise and some good bread.

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  • Mackerel
  • Olive oil
  • Half a dozen branchlets of bay leaves (i.e. a few dozen leaves on the stalk)
  • A lemon
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

This recipe is taken from...

River Cottage Fish