Glazed and Enthused – Spanish Mackerel, Saffron and Honey with Blood Orange – Fennel Salad

Spanish Mackerel, Saffron and Honey with Fennel - Blood Orange Salad-1

Spanish Mackerel, Saffron and Honey with Blood Orange – Fennel Salad.  If you make nothing else from us this year, make this.  It’s crazy delicious, one of my contenders for the tastiest thing Jody’s cooked in the past year, and it’s as uncomplicated and fun as bright new socks.  Contrary to what you may think, the recipe doesn’t involve filleting your own mackerel.  Unless you want to.  If so, have it.  That’s what we did, but only because the whole fish were so gorgeous I couldn’t bear not photographing them (your fishmonger should do the job for you).  You’ll also notice that there are three fish and only four fillets, when you’d expect six.  That’s because we roasted the third mackerel whole.  If Spanish mackerel’s around, we can’t get enough of it.  Make this dish.

And no whining about, “Oh, mackerel, that’s one of those ‘fishy’ fishes, isn’t it?”  Atlantic mackerel, yes.  Spanish mackerel, no.  Not that there’s anything wrong with Atlantic mackerel.  We planned on using it, but when we couldn’t get any, we switched things up.  I grew up eating, reluctantly, canned mackerel, because in winter in rural Michigan that and canned salmon were often the only seafood at hand.  Spanish mackerel bears no relationship to that.  Many people don’t recognize Spanish mackerel when it’s put in front of them.  The meaty, white flesh makes an excellent partner to seasoning because its flavor doesn’t disappear (one of my objections to sole).  [Start soapbox.]  This dish combines so many things that I love – cured olives, mint, lemon, honey, smoky pepper, pine nuts, fennel and blood oranges in a great salad.  The seasoning in both the vinaigrette and marinade screams southern Mediterranean, one of my favorite culinary loci.  If it sounds like I’m on a soapbox here, I am.  I will eat this over lobster any day of the week.  Seriously.  [End soapbox.] But if you want to substitute something else, go ahead.  I’m just as happy not to see the price of Spanish mackerel ascend to the empyrean realms of other once-less-desirable fish that have become trendy.

You can simplify or downscale things–omit the saffron, or just make the fish; or you can make the salad, and once you’re won over by that, go back later and give Spanish mackerel a try, but I’m urging you to light all the fireworks at once.   And after you’ve done that, you can do that increasingly rare thing these days, introduce someone else to a new pleasure.  Enjoy.  Ken

NOTE: The Syrian War has disrupted supplies of Aleppo pepper.  We listed it in the ingredients because we are part of what the Christian Science Monitor refers to in an article about disruption of the Aleppo pepper supply as the “small number of home chefs who enjoy its almost-smokey flavor.”  Small?  I beg your pardon.  Dedicated and loud about Aleppo pepper?  Absolutely.  While Aleppo pepper may be temporarily in short supply neither it nor the Syrian farmers who grow it are forgotten, and we can’t wait for the day when they can go back to work without threat.  If, perchance, you happen to have some Aleppo pepper and use it in this recipe, the marinade will not be as red.  We had to fall back on paprika, which is a brighter color.

Spanish Mackerel, Saffron and Honey with Fennel - Blood Orange Salad-2

Spanish Mackerel, Saffron and Honey with Blood Orange - Fennel Salad

Glaze Ingredients:

  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon saffron
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or sweet paprika
  • 1 tablespoon chopped mint
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1½ pounds Spanish mackerel fillets

Salad Ingredients:

  • 8 ounces shaved fennel, about one 10 ounce bulb
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced
  • ½ cup small mint leaves, or large leaves torn
  • Supremes* from 1 blood orange, juice reserved–use a regular orange if blood oranges aren’t available
  • 3 cups arugula
  • ½ cup chervil leaves (reserve a few chervil sprigs for garnish)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped pitted cured black olives
  • 3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts

*If “supremes” aren’t part of your culinary vocabulary, then check out last week’s Dutch Babies with Blood Oranges for an explanation and some photos showing how to easily segment them from an orange.


  1. Line a sheet pan with foil.  Brush the foil with 1 tablespoon oil.
  2. To make the marinade, rub the saffron between your fingers, crumbling it into a bowl with the lemon juice and zest.  Allow this to steep for 15 minutes in a warm place, then stir in the honey, garlic and Aleppo pepper or paprika.  Transfer 2 tablespoons of this mixture to a second bowl for the marinade.  Set the first bowl aside for the vinaigrette.  Add the chopped mint then whisk 2 tablespoons of oil into the second bowl to finish the marinade.
  3. Score the skin side of the fillets with 4 shallow cuts.  Season the fish on both sides with salt and pepper.  Brush the fillets on the flesh side with the marinade and refrigerate 30 minutes.
  4. To make the vinaigrette, add the reserved orange juice to the lemon juice, honey, etc. in the first bowl.  Slowly whisk in the remaining olive oil.
  5. Add the fennel, olives  and scallions to the bowl with the vinaigrette.  Toss gently.
  6. Preheat broiler.
  7. Lay the fish, skin side up on the foil-lined pan.  Broil 4-5 minutes or until the skin is crisp and the meat is cooked through.  I like to stop while the center is still a little pink as it will continue cooking once it’s removed from the broiler.
  8. While the fish is cooking, add the torn mint leaves, the arugula, chervil and pine nuts to the fennel mix.  As soon as the fish comes out of the oven toss the salad once, then add the supremes and gently toss just enough to get some vinaigrette on them without breaking them.  Arrange the salad on 4 plates.  Set the cooked fish atop the salad, garnish and serve.

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Jody Notes

I’ve had one version or another of this salad from Sicily to San Francisco yet never get tired of the combination of fennel, orange and olives.  In the winter, it’s a bright note in what can otherwise be a dark and dreary culinary landscape.  When I can find blood oranges, I grab them.  I love the color and the sharp acidic flavor.   Cured olives are salty and intense which is why I call for chopping them and only using a few tablespoons.  If you choose a brined olive, you can use more and keep them in bigger pieces.

When I first put this recipe together, I had Atlantic Mackerel, a darker fish, in mind.  They both work.  In fact, just about any non-delicate fish would as well–bluefish, bass, salmon and even shrimp–you’d just have to adjust the cooking time.

P.S.  I wouldn’t have hated adding a second blood orange to this salad.

49 thoughts

  1. Oh. My. Gosh. What a gorgeous dish. I cannot wait to try this when we get home to more available ingredients. Thanks again.

    • Hello, Yvonne–Glad you’ve found us. I didn’t know mackerel was big in Nigeria. It is available here, but you need to either find a fishmonger who caters to people without a lot of money (Atlantic mackerel is very inexpensive) or to people who know their fish (i.e. who want to buy Spanish mackerel). In the middling stores you’ll have a problem because too many of the customers either don’t like mackerel or fear it because of its underserved reputation for being “strong.” Good luck. Ken

  2. This is absolutely stunning guys. I cannot believe how many wonderful flavors are packed into this. The photos are gorgeous and the ingredients…yum. I love the use of citrus over fish. Wow! This is really a great one.

  3. Very nice to have encouragement to buy mackerel, which I have never bought before. I’m dying to try this. Blood oranges are abundant right now and I know I am not going to quit thinking about this until I put it together. Thank you for another inspiring recipe.

    • I think you’ll like it. We really enjoy grilled Atlantic mackerel in the summer, especially with romesco sauce or a sweet and sour vinaigrette. But Spanish mackerel is a good place to start. Good luck. Ken

  4. Looks delicious! Perhaps if I’d had this recipe a decade ago everyone in my family wouldn’t groan at the words Spanish and mackerel when used in close proximity. It all has to do with an ill-fated deep sea fishing afternoon when we were on vacation in NC. Lots of seasickness, our extremely annoying “Captain Paul” and a particularly yuck recipe I think from Bittman’s Fish book that I’d carried along to the beach house.

    • Ooh, that sounds like a very bad day. “Captain Paul,” a figure who will live in infamy. You might try slipping a little SM under the radar some night (that doesn’t sound quite right, but anyway…). If anyone asks, tell them it’s “White Bluefish.” Ken

  5. Long time fan of Mack and other “oily, fishy, smoky” fishes… blues, anchovies, sardines, smelts, etc. Our pantry always had ample supplies of smoked mussels, oysters, sardines in mustard sauce and kippered herring. A modest dose of these goes a long way in flavor enhancement. This recipe has Sicilian hints of the famed “pasta con sarde” with the mix of fennel, olives, saffron with perhaps the blood orange standing in for tomatoes in the acid dept. A fave mid-winter dish is “spaghetti with black olives and orange” from Lorenza de’ Medici’s “The Renaissance of Italian Cooking”. You just KNOW these ingredients, tossed with fine olive oil and black pepper, will meld beautifully. Thanks for the post and photos K&J!

    • Good for you. We love all of that stuff, and not necessary in in small “flavoring” doses. We’re big fans of fresh sardines, broiled or grilled, but so many people we know won’t go near them, which is a real shame. And I agree about the combination of ingredients–very hard to beat. Ken

    • Everything seems brighter with new socks, doesn’t it? I’m afraid Syria is a horrible mess now (I don’t think it necessarily need have been, but that’s another story) with only bad choices. I spend a lot of my time alone staring at a computer screen, not talking to anyone, so don’t get me involved in a political conversation or the dam will break. Enjoy the mackerel. Ken

      • I have very sturdy hands myself. I think it actually helps with cooking. But I wasn’t trying to insult your wife’s hands. I thought I saw two different sets of nails!

      • I didn’t take it as an insult. :-) Jody keep her nails short and–believe it or not–clean, but as soon as she starts slicing and dicing stuff gets in there. Rinse, chop, rinse…. If the offending nail won’t come clean she clips it off, sometimes in midpost. Er, that’s probably more than you wanted to know. Ken

  6. Ken and Jody,

    Hello and Happy New Year (still).

    We wanted to make our own preserved lemons, and find very different recipes out there: some call just for salt, and some have as many spices as pumpkin pie. Since you first introduced us to this new favorite, we were wondering if you had a recipe you liked, and which kind you favored. Those we’ve been buying from our wonderful (and flexible) cheesemonger were not spiced and only tasted intensely lemony (my mouth is watering as I write).

    Both sound delicious, actually, but we’d love to know what you’ve had in mind when you’ve been writing recipes, and if you’d share a recipe for them with us.

    Thanks so much.

    Mary Pat

    PS Writing this also has me hankering to play Bananagrams. Love to Poe when next you talk to her.

    • Hi, Mary Pat–

      Funny you mentioned that. We’re probably going to do a post on preserving your own lemons in a few weeks. People do add other things – cinnamon, for example, or hot red chili flakes. But not us. We’re not against any of those things, it’s just that if you’re making a batch at a time, they’re more versatile if they’re basic–lemon, salt, lemon juice. You can always add the other stuff to the dish while you’re cooking, but you can’t take it out of the lemons.

      Banangrams! Ha! We’ve since discovered Anomia and–God help us–Cards Against Humanity.


  7. Without Aleppo, is Pimentón de la Vera a possible substitute for the aleppo and the regular paprika? Also around Boston where can I find the Spanish Mackerel?
    This is beautiful, and my therapy for the weekend!

    • Hi, Beatriz–it depends on how closely you want to try to match things. There are some Turkish versions of Aleppo pepper, but I’ve never tried tracking them down. You might call Penzy’s in Arlington–they might recommend an alternative. We like Hungarian paprika a lot, both sweet and hot. We used the sweet in this recipe. Spanish mackerel is available at Whole Foods, but I’m sure you can find it elsewhere now as well. Good luck. Ken

    • Hi, Tammy–Where are you? If you’re someplace rural, you might not find it. It tends to be the kind of fish that shows up in markets where people are particular about their fish (and like fish). Or in places where there are lots of people who like fish but don’t have a lot of money (read: immigrant communities). Spanish mackerel is considerably cheaper than cod in Boston, and Atlantic mackerel is cheaper still. Good luck. Ken

  8. Who doesn’t love saffron, right? The flavors and foods in this recipe are divine. The combination of olive, blood orange, pine nuts and fennel sound lovely. We adore fish in this house, even the little ones. Absolutely fabulous dish; very creative and international. I did find aleppo pepper on-line at Penzey’s and World Spice Merchants… perhaps there is mackerel in our future? Have a relaxing Sunday, Jody and Ken!

    • “….relaxing Sunday…” Ha! Today was the Hunger Brunch, when restaurants across Boston serve a special menu, served by volunteers, with the proceeds going to the Greater Boston Food Bank. Rialto was one of the restaurants, so we were there bright and early. It’s a great cause, so giving up a Sunday is a good reminder that not everyone gets to debate which kind of mackerel they prefer, let alone how they feel about saffron. That said, who doesn’t love saffron (used with a light touch)? Good info about Penzy’s–I’ve always liked them. I’ll check them out before the last of the Aleppo disappears. Thanks for the kind words. Ken

      • Ken, Thank you for the warm response. What a wonderful cause! If we lived in Boston, I would have volunteered my services; it’s a smart and philanthropic idea. Yes, we are all very fortunate. My kids are one- and four-years-old. They request wild salmon, organic dark chocolate, grilled vegetables, organic fruits, etc. I grew up without access to healthy and delicious foods, which may explain why it is so important to me in adulthood. We are all so fortunate to have the luxury of debating the qualities of this or that mackerel variety (and, being a lover of all things Spanish, I concur with your choice). Forgive me, but tell me about Rialto: it’s type of food and your connection to it. Do let me know if there are ever opportunities to volunteer in the Southwest or digitally for the Food Bank. Take good care – Shanna

      • Everyone had a great time–I think we had 70 volunteers, which makes things MUCH easier. In regard to question about Rialto, in a phrase, it’s high-end Italian, with a comfortable, warm atmosphere. The menu shifts emphasis every 8 weeks to a different region of Italy. Take a closer look: Ken

      • The concept of the restaurant sounds great, Ken. Do you ever have “special nights” where you highlight another country – for a special event? I can’t believe no one has stolen this concept; it’s unique. It would work for almost any country and sounds fun, approachable and dynamic. On another note, I feel completely silly. I must live under a foodie rock. Now I know why your recipes are so great (and the photos and content, too). You two are the perfect team.

  9. I thought I was going mad because I was having trouble finding Aleppo.. Now I know why.

    I was just chatting with someone last week about why the Syrian conflict was worth worrying about. Now I really do have concerns!

  10. Oh my. It’s as if you have pilfered my dreams with these ingredients. How is it possible to have such perfection – such seasonality, colour, atmosphere, beauty, roughness, and Mediterranean languor on one plate. Am I wittering on? Yes. Can I have the one of the Spanish mackerel as a poster? Sophie

    • The mackerel are as visual a feast as they are a gustatory one. The beauty of some seafood can just stop you in your tracks and make you wonder how you missed it all this time. You’re not wittering on–thank you. (Where do you get these words? “Wittering”?! I love it. Half the time I read your posts I think I’ve wandered into a random page of DANIEL MARTIN. Next thing you know we’ll all be chatting about the blue-eyed speedwell we spied in the spinney.) You’re welcome to any photo you like as a poster, with the uunderstanding that you’ll return to periodically witter. Only choose. Ken

  11. FAN-TASTIC. How I wish I could find fresh spanish mackerel at Whole Foods in Denver. I need to hit up a few fishmonger shops in town. Maybe one of them can feed my spanish mackerel need.

    • I’m surprised to hear that. You’d think with Denver’s Hispanic population that some kind of mackerel would be available– believe me, it’s delicious with Atlantic mackerel too. Sometimes you can just order a couple of pounds if your fishmonger knows you’ll show up to pay for it. Good luck.

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