During my brief stint in culinary school, one of the many recipes we made was smoked mackerel pate. The school provided us with entire smoked mackerels so that we could practice filleting round fish — when smoked, the round fish fillets much easier than it would if it were raw, giving us a chance to try to be really precise with our cuts without butchering the fish to pieces.
Every day after school we were allowed to bring home whatever we made during the day and didn’t cook, so after I filleted my mackerel and mixed up my pate, I dutifully packed it up in a Tupperware container. I wasn’t sure how the pate would be received at home. Mackerel is an oily, fishy fish with a really strong flavor. Even though I liked the chopped gherkins (little pickles), capers and flat leaf parsley woven throughout, that’s a lot of punch in a snack.
Much to my surprise, the mackerel pate was a hit with the family, even the little ones. Mackerel is the kind of fish that I think of when someone tells me they don’t like fish (shortly before I quietly decide that this person is also probably not someone I have a lot in common with). I know I am lucky to have adventurous little eaters, but I really thought mackerel would be where they draw the line.
What I didn’t plan on was the fact that mackerel, once smoked, is deliciously soft and flaky. The smokiness also cuts through the oiliness of the fish, and it’s easy to find a deli here that stocks smoked whole mackerels. I learned this the hard way, actually. The first time I found them, I went crazy and bought six to store in my freezer at home. Then I discovered that almost every little deli has them. This is what my life is like here — it’s like everyone is living in a movie where they’ve already seen the ending and I’m watching the trailer trying to figure out what the plot will be.
I’ve made this smoked mackerel pate several times now for guests. I’ve found that it’s a wonderful addition to an antipasti platter or as an alternative bagel spread for breakfast. If your eyebrows are raised and you’re totally doubting me right now, I don’t blame you. But seriously — TRY IT. It’s so weirdly addictive.
- 1 whole smoked mackerel, filet (approximately 1.5 cups; if you can't find mackerel, you can substitute a can of chunk white albacore tuna, drained and flaked with a fork)
- 6 tablespoons creme fraiche
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons fresh flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons capers, drained and roughly chopped
- 2 tablespoons cornichons (gherkins), drained and roughly chopped
- salt and pepper to taste
- Flake the mackerel (or tuna) into a medium-sized bowl, being careful to remove any large bones.
- Add creme fraiche and, using a rubber spatula, stir gently to incorporate.
- Add parsley, salt and pepper, then add capers and cornichons, a little at a time, tasting as you go. The final product should taste tart and savory but not overly salty.