Moroccan Pan-Fried Mackerel Fillets with a Tomato & Pepper Salsa

Do you ever have a dish that instantly transports you back to a certain place and time? Hippy Essaouira was one of my favourite places in Morocco – we ate sun-drenched meals of freshly-caught fish right next to the harbour, gulls flapping as lazily as the course of our days. My love affair with fish was something of a slow one though. I remember hating eating fish as a kid because of the uncertainty of what it actually meant.

Don’t get me wrong, my mother’s a great cook but school dinners were a whole different matter – particularly as I grew up in an age of boil in the bag fish. 

Wait, say weeeeeert? 

You know, fish that comes in a plastic pouch you just chuck into boiling water and cook until it gives up all hope of flavour and takes on an alarmingly texture, with fibres that stick to the roof of your mouth, pugilist to the end. 

I don’t wanna play a one woman pity party here but boil in the bag fish is surely one of the biggest crimes ever committed against a palate. Fact. 

Moving decisively on. 

This is my take on those Essaouiran plates of steaming hot fish, dripping with oily juices, coloured and flavoured by the spices rubbed onto the fillets – it’s a wonderful spring / summer lunch for two that’s quick and easy to prepare.

Delicious Moroccan fish

The indulgently rich fish is offset by the tartness of the preserved lemons and aromatic thyme. 

This dish also pairs incredibly well with a chilled glass of aromatic Torrontes. Just saying. 

Top Tips for Making the Pan Fried Marinated Mackerel 

Use Preserved Lemons (Or Make a Quick Substitute)

The acidic tang of preserved lemons is an absolute must in this dish – I’d always recommend having a jar in the cupboard as they brighten up any salad and the preserving brine can be used in salad dressings. 

If you can’t get your hands on preserved lemons, Nigella has a great recipe for creating quick preserved lemons in Forever Summer, where you basically boil the lemons then add them to a pan with salt, sugar and water and simmer them until tender. The result is a bit salty but is a great substitute for the real thing. 

Substituting the Mackerel with Other Fish

The marinading mackerel
The marinading mackerel

You can use other fish for this recipe – particularly firm, white fish but I love the way that mackerel’s bold flavour stands up well to the pungent marinade.

How to Make the Pan-Fried Mackerel: In Pictures

Grind the spices
Grind the spices
Add the wet ingredients
Add the wet ingredients
Rub the mackerel in the marinade
Rub the mackerel in the marinade
Serve with Cous cous and salsa
Serve with cous cous and salsa

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