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Spring Mackerel With Sour Grapes and Saffron Salsa

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“This recipe comes from the Portuguese islands of Madeira and the Azores (Chicharros de Agraco com Molho de Acafrao). Fresh sardines and mackerel are favorites in the Portuguese cuisine and while fresh sardines are hard to find, mackerel are more readily available. Usually made in midsummer, the grapes used are sour because they are in the middle of their growing season and are thus immature -- you can substitute mature grapes, unless you have a vineyard nearby! The ingredients all speak of Portugal: fish, olive oil, saffron, garlic, onion, grapes. Traditionally, this is made in a casuela, an unglazed earthenware dish which will fry without burning ... you can substitute any heavy seasoned cast iron or non-stick pan. An unseasoned pan will ruin the wonderful cornmeal coating and skin of the fish ... We had this recipe at a restaurant in the Douro Valley, but this version is from Elisabeth Luard's "The Food of Spain and Portugal". Submitted for Zaar World Tour 5 (2009).”

Ingredients Nutrition

  • 4 mackerel, fresh, gutted, the more subcutaneous fat the better
  • 2 teaspoons salt, as needed
  • 14 cup cornmeal
  • 3 tablespoons frying oil (traditional is pork lard, next best olive oil or a mix of the two, don't use a "flavorful" oil like )
  • 1 onion, mild, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, skinned and chopped
  • 1 red pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons wine vinegar
  • 14 teaspoon salt, to taste
  • 12 teaspoon saffron thread
  • 14 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon grapes, cut in half and seeded, immature (green)


  1. First make the salsa -- combine the onion, garlic, pepper, vinegar and a little salt in a bowl and marinate for the time it takes to prepare the fish.
  2. Dry roast the saffron threads until they barely darken (don't let them burn).
  3. Crush the saffron and add it to the marinating salsa in the bowl.
  4. Mix in the olive oil and the grapes.
  5. Now for the fish -- rinse and clean the fish.
  6. Salt both sides and the cavity.
  7. Dredge through the cornmeal, making sure to get a thorough coating.
  8. Heat up 1-2 Tbsp oil in the frying pan, then pan fry each fish for 4-6 minutes per side, turning gently to leave the cornmeal coating intact.
  9. Plate the fish, with the salsa along the side or passed separately.

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