One chef, one maître d', one bartender, one dishwasher, and 20 seats - Fleet is highwire stuff. How does it work? How can this tiny, quietly glam wine bar hidden improbably in Brunswick Heads just north of Byron Bay be one of the top restaurants in the country? A lot of it comes down to Josh Lewis knowing where and when to push things. Mostly it's in the sourcing of his produce, typically local, frequently things overlooked by other buyers. And then, as often as not, he all but lets the produce speak for itself, a judicious garnish or two providing the simple (but perfectly apt) accent. The blue mackerel you see here are a perfect example. "These guys and other small fish like them are often overlooked as table fish and considered by most as bait," says Lewis. "But when they're fresh, they're among the tastiest fish in the ocean. This dish is incredibly simple and is probably the reason why it's a favourite both at home and at the restaurant. There's a variety of ways you can cook the mackerel, all with delicious results. I brush the skin very sparingly with oil before lightly seasoning it with sea salt. Put the fish skin-side down over a high heat; use whatever you have available, whether it be coals, a barbecue or very hot pan - the key is to blister that skin a little."
- 12 blue mackerel, cleaned (about 230gm each)
- Olive oil, for brushing
- Lemon wedges, to serve
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 2 garlic cloves, halved lengthways
- 1 cup flat-leaf parsley with stalks (about 1 bunch firmly packed)
- 3 tsp apple cider vinegar
- 2½ tsp olive oil
- 1½ tsp tamari
- 1For parsley marinade, mix ingredients, except parsley, and a pinch of salt in a bowl. Add parsley and leave to marinate for 1 hour.
- 2For tamari-cider dressing, whisk ingredients together in a bowl.
- 3Remove heads from mackerel with a sharp knife, then butterfly them from the stomach on each side, filleting the flesh away from the backbone as you go, but leaving the fillets joined together by the skin running along the top of the fish. Cut the backbone at the tail (keeping tail attached to fillets), then gently pry the joined fillets from the backbone (discard bones; see note). Remove pin bones and fins, cover mackerel and refrigerate until required.
- 4Heat a charcoal or gas barbecue, or large frying pan over high heat. Brush mackerel with oil, then grill skin-side down in batches until skin is golden brown and a little crisp (1-2 minutes). Meanwhile, shake off excess marinade from parsley and scatter onto grill, but not over fish, and grill until lightly wilted and charred (20-30 seconds). Turn fish and parsley, and grill briefly to finish cooking (10-20 seconds), then transfer to plates. Brush mackerel with tamari dressing, spoon any cooking juices on top and serve.
Or ask the fishmonger to butterfly the mackerel for you.
Drink Suggestion: Toasty bottle-aged Hunter sémillon. Drink suggestion by Max Allen
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