You've probably come across slow-curing fish in recipes like that for gravadlax, where the process is drawn out over several days. However, a quick cure of salt and sugar can enhance the already delicate flavour of a fish such as mackerel. The salt and sugar draw moisture from the flesh, firming the texture as well as seasoning it. The cure is also the perfect vehicle for lightly spicing the fish - in this case with fennel and coriander.

This may seem a little cheffy, but if you can get really fresh mackerel, I urge you to give this a try. The inspiration for this dish was a snack we used to make when I worked at Fera at Claridges, and when developing this recipe, as in the restaurant, I skinned the mackerel before curing it. The result was a beautiful texture, but a very delicate flavour. Eaten with the rest of the salad, there was still something missing, so I decided to keep the skin on and use a blowtorch to crisp it – another chef’s technique.

By cooking the mackerel on just one side, with the extreme heat of a blowtorch you get crisp, smoky skin, which protects the delicate, cured flesh. I also used an old sushi-master’s trick of removing the clear membrane from the mackerel’s stripy skin. This is a bit like sinew, and tightens when cooked, forcing the fish to curl. When it’s removed, the fish keeps its shape, so the skin can caramelise evenly.

Blow torching Mackerel

*This recipe is gluten-free according to industry standards


  • 2 large fillets mackerel
  • 75g fine sea salt
  • 75g caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp fennel seeds, toasted and ground
  • 1 tbsp coriander seeds, toasted and ground


  • 1 bulb fennel, very thinly sliced, fronds reserved
  • 1 blood orange
  • 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

  • 2 tsp sherry vinegar
  • a pinch sugar


  • 1 tsp pumpkin seeds, toasted, to serve


  • STEP 1

    Lay each mackerel fillet on a chopping board, skin-side up. At one of the corners of the thick end of the fillet, tease away the top membrane using your finger. Imagine you are teasing the back of a sticker up, starting from the corner. Once you’ve got enough to pinch between your fingers, peel down gently towards the tail. Repeat with the other fillet. Turn the fillets over and, using a sharp knife, cut vertically down each fillet, a couple of millimetres either side of the central line of bones, creating 4 bone-free fillets.

  • STEP 2

    In a bowl, mix the fine sea salt, sugar and ground fennel seeds and coriander seeds.

  • STEP 3

    Sprinkle ¼ of this mix into a baking dish, lay the mackerel fillets, skin-side down, on top and cover with the remaining cure mix. Cover and chill for 1 hour.

  • STEP 4

    Put the sliced fennel in a bowl of iced water for 10 minutes. Segment the orange over a bowl, catching any juice and the segmented orange pieces. Add the olive oil, sherry vinegar, seasoning and the sugar and stir gently.

  • STEP 5

    Remove the mackerel from the cure and wash under gently running cold water. Pat dry with kitchen paper.

  • STEP 6

    Put the mackerel fillets on another clean baking tray, skin-side up, and blowtorch until the skin is blistered and crisp. Alternatively, heat the grill to high and grill the fillets for 1 minute – but keep an eye on them!

  • STEP 7

    Strain the fennel and toss it through the orange segments. Serve next to the mackerel fillets with a drizzle of dressing, a sprinkle of pumpkin seeds and a scattering of fennel fronds.


Comments, questions and tips

Rate this recipe

What is your star rating out of 5?

Choose the type of message you'd like to post

Choose the type of message you'd like to post

Overall rating