With some trepidation I prepared this rather spectacular dish in front of sixty people at a literary festival one Summer. It was a complete triumph, as you can see from my expression in the photo.
Yashim cooks this, too, in An Evil Eye.
A large fresh mackerel, not gutted
For the stuffing: A few shallots, scoop of pine nuts, scoop of chopped blanched almonds, scoop of chopped walnuts, a handful of currants soaked in warm water, a few dried apricots finely chopped, and some herbs and spices – generous pinches of cinnamon, allspice, ground cloves, kirmiz biber or chilli powder, sugar and dill and parsley, finely chopped.
Cooking is easy – it’s getting there that’s the challenge. You have to make a small incision beneath the gills, and then draw out the guts, and chuck them away. Lay the mackerel on a board and beat it with a rolling pin, or an empty bottle, making sure you’ve snapped the backbone. Massage the skin gently, to loosen it from the flesh and finally – this is the bit that makes your audience, if you have one, groan out loud – squeeze the whole thing out through the incision below the gills!
It is not easy. Go gently, trying not to tear the skin, as if you were squeezing a tube of toothpaste. You are left with an empty skin, still attached to the head. Rinse it out, making sure to remove any little bones, and set it aside.
Now make the stuffing: sweat the chopped shallots in oil, add all the nuts, and let them colour. Add all the other ingredients except the herbs, and stir them around.
Pick out as much of the flesh as you can from the bones, and mix it into the stuffing, with herbs, a squeeze of lemon, and salt and pepper to taste.
Cook it through for another couple of minutes. Let it cool a bit, and stuff that mackerel! Use a teaspoon, and gradually fill the skin, squeezing the stuffing right down to the end. It looks like a mackerel again.
You can roll the fish in flour and fry it, or better still brush with oil and set it under the grill, hot, until the skin begins to blister.
Finally, with a very sharp knife, slice the mackerel thickly, lay it on a plate like a fish, and serve with lemon wedges.