Smoked Peppered Mackerel on Beetroot Couscous
My first taste of smoked mackerel together with beetroot was a quite a few years ago now, at a gorgeous little boutique B&B in Norfolk called Strattons. We used to drive up there from London occasionally, for the peace and quiet, and for their lovely little restaurant, where, for £1 (donated to charity) you could purchase any of the recipes on the restaurant menu. This is such a fantastic idea, a great way to raise money for charity, but also a way to get diners more involved in and excited about their dinner – I really don’t know why more restaurants don’t do it. Anyway, they had a lovely salad of raw grated carrot, beetroot, and smoked mackerel, which I duly purchased the recipe for and used to make at home occasionally, mainly for the earthy flavour of the raw beetroot, (and for the fun of having a way to eat something as beautiful as a beetroot raw).
I was reminded of the Strattons salad while in Istanbul recently eating a delicious dish of beetroot couscous and smoked sea bream. Back when I lived in London, I would have been keen to try bream smoking at home, fussing around to get some decent wood chips and setting up a little smoker in the garden; in Qatar, I set off the hotel-apartment smoke alarm blowing out a tea-light the other day. And when this happened, hotel staff stormed the room with fire-extinguishers, evacuation procedures were initiated, and the noise continued to sound for several deafening minutes after the ‘just-a-tea-light’ all clear had been given.
So, I can’t smoke bream. I can offer an apartment-dwellers lite version though by following the Strattons example and using (store-bought) smoked mackerel instead. In order to take the whole dish in a more Middle-Eastern direction, I’ve also added roast sliced slivered almonds, and juicy little segments of lemon to the couscous. These are designed to pop in the mouth and give occasional little citrusy bursts of flavour. Texturally, the almonds and lemon bits also really help break the couscous monotony!
(Serves 4 as mezze)
- 1 smoked peppered mackerel (or two fillets)
- 200g uncooked beetroot (about 1 medium beetroot)
- 125g couscous
- ½ clove of garlic – crushed
- 200mls boiling water
- Splash of olive oil
- 2 lemons
- 25g sliced slivered almonds
- Small bunch of thyme – leaves stripped from the woody stalks
- Small handful of dill – finely chopped
- Salt & pepper
If you fancy the idea of the beetroot couscous, but not the mackerel so much, a vegetarian version might involve topping with a bit of lightly grilled feta instead. Or even just crumbling with some nice feta to create more of a salad. I made a rather ambitious quantity of this couscous last week, and ended up eating the left-overs with crumbled feta and a drizzle of the cacik yogurt two days running. Yum (but then leftovers always taste better!).
In an oven pre-heated to 180˚C, roast the slivered almond slices for 5 minutes, removing when they have just began to colour, (take care as these to tend to burn in an instant).
Peel the beetroot and, using a fine grater, grate this into a large bowl. Add the dry couscous, and the crushed half garlic clove to the grated beetroot, mixing through. Pour over the boiling water, place a plate over the bowl, and set aside while the couscous absorbs the water. After about 5 minutes, lift off the plate and fluff the couscous mixture using a fork. Set aside to cool for a while.
Using a paring knife, remove the skin and zest from one lemon. Cut carefully between the membranous sections of the peeled lemon to free wedge-shaped chunks of lemon leaving the dividing membrane behind. Then, and this step is kind of fiddly, peel off the mini-capsules of lemon flesh in groupings as small as possible. Individual capsules of lemon are ideal (!), but not always easily achieved I know. Do this until you have a few tablespoons worth of lemon segments, (or until you begin to get fed up). Add these to the couscous, along with the squeezed juice of the second lemon. Splash in a quick glug of olive oil and mix this through as well. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Tear the smoked mackerel into bite-sized chunks, seasoning these with a little additional lemon juice.
When you are ready to serve, mix the chopped herbs and roast slivered almonds through the couscous, (reserving a few of the almonds to garnish). Arrange the smoked mackerel pieces atop the couscous, and then scatter those last almonds…
Smoked fish, raw beetroot, crunchy almond, and not a peep from the fire alarm!