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This is the third installment of Sunday Dinners, a biweekly column from our own Tom Hirschfeld featuring his gorgeous photography, stunning Indiana farm, and mouthwatering family meals.

Today: Against all odds, Tom finds the fresh fish of his dreams.

- Tom

Fish isn't exactly what comes to mind when I think of Indiana. While we do border Lake Michigan — I have been on great salmon fishing trips there — seafood still isn't what readily comes to mind. Well, maybe frog gigging, but that is a whole different animal. (No pun intended.)

Still, that shouldn't keep a man from dreaming, should it?

On any given day at the grocery you can catch me walking the terra cotta-tiled promenade in front of the glass case filled with sparkly crushed ice, staring dreamily at black fishnet bags of oysters and mussels nestled into their frigid bed, taunting me. The fresh fish cast seductive glances my way, but more often then not what I see shows signs that it was ridden hard and put up wet after the catch. It is just not for me.

I used to work with a lot of fish. My first restaurant job had me checking and cleaning sixty-plus pounds a day, which isn't all that much in the restaurant business but was an experience for which I am grateful. I can recognize high-quality, clean whole fish with confidence; I know the differences across species and which ones I like best to eat.

So I don't give up. With the glass slipper in my pocket, I keep looking for my Cinderella. Sometimes I catch a glimpse. I stop. I stop long enough for the young fishmonger with the smile like a great white shark to zero in and ask if I see anything I like, anything he can show me.

Something has caught my fancy so intensely that I barely hear what the fishmonger is saying. Looking into the case with one hand on the grocery cart, I bend over for a closer look. The other hand is in the air pointing into the distance with a tapping motion as I mutter something in a voice of shock about when this fish came in.

My eyes are locked on hers. They are damp, wide, and glistening. I've found my diamond amongst the chunks of coal. Noting my interest, the fishmonger slides the beautiful whole mackerel onto a red cafeteria tray as if he is showing me an engagement ring. If he hadn't offered I would have asked. This is one gorgeous mackerel.

He sets it atop the counter. I move in close and inhale deeply. Oh my. It is the unmistakeable pristine smell of the freshest ocean. I really don't need to go any further but out of habit I poke my finger softly into the thick of her side. She gives a little and then the indentation disappears. Perfect.

When I get home I open up the brown paper wrapper and she is every bit as beautiful as I remember. No buyer's regret here.

Both of my girls take an interest, so I set the fish on the bench for them to get a notion of where their food comes from. Whole fish is a great way to do this — I am amazed that with each passing day I see more whole fish at the market.

My girls love oily, omega-3-laden fish like salmon, sardines, and anchovies. Little Lynnie watches with intensity as I filet the fish. Everyday she is becoming more and more interested in cooking.

They will love this.

Mackerel with Fennel and Onion Sofrito

Serves 4

4 six-ounce mackerel or fish filets
1 fennel bulb
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1/2 cup dry white wine
3/4 cup fresh tomato pulp
1/3 cup nicoise olives, chopped
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
2 tablespoons currants
pinch of fennel seeds

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Tags: Sunday Dinner, Bona Fide Farm Food, Tom Hirschfeld, mackerel, fish, sofrito, seafood

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Comments (22)


over 3 years ago Equator180

I am huge fan of mackerel, have had it many different countries of which one of my favorite is grilled with local preserved veggies, (very hot) in Korea where it is called Saba Fish and is prepared and sold as such all over S.E. Asia. As a kid living on the Atlantic Coast we ate this fish in the spring and fall months when t was plentiful and cheap however I have never anywhere in the world see a mackerel like you have in the photos...brown spots? maybe e you should Google mackerel?


over 3 years ago thirschfeld

Equator180 no need to google it, it is a Spanish Mackerel.


over 3 years ago Trillinchick

If one cannot find fresh mackerel (never have seen it) what fish might be substituted? Or, since the combination of the other ingredients sound so heavenly, maybe I could bring them together as a side dish for some cut of beef (flank steak, perhaps?) or sobrito? Cheers!


over 3 years ago thirschfeld

Trillinchick you could substitute just about any white fleshed fish for the mackerel. While the white fleshed fish isn't as omega rich it would be great with the sofrito, halibut, grouper, snapper all some to mind.


over 3 years ago SusanRubinsky

I just love Mackerel. A truly under appreciated fish. I grew up a marine mechanic's daughter and spent much of my childhood out on the water fishing. Consequently, I've only ever had mackerel caught fresh from Long Island Sound or the Atlantic. This recipe looks lovely. I can't wait to share it with my family!


over 3 years ago thirschfeld

It doesn't get any better then fresh from the ocean and thank you


over 3 years ago Vivian Henoch

Ok... I'm following you. Perhaps all the way to Indiana. Great recipes and photography. You must be working on the book(?)


over 3 years ago Shalini

Tom, I have no doubt your little girls are going to be filleting fish right beside you sometime soon.
We've not made mackerel here yet but my boy loves the other oily fish too, so this is on my list to try. Plus I see your signature writing style here, it's great!


over 3 years ago Hungry Souls

This looks gorgeous. I always love your posts.


over 3 years ago thirschfeld

Thank you Hungry Souls


over 3 years ago calendargirl

Lovely, thirschfeld. I'm with your girls on oily fish!


over 3 years ago thirschfeld

thanks calendargirl


over 3 years ago mrslarkin

Mrs. Larkin is a trusted source on Baking.

Love this one, thirschfeld. Someday, I would love a tutorial on cleaning and gutting a whole fish. I figure if I can handle a squid, I should be ok with a fish.


over 3 years ago thirschfeld

thanks and mrsl I have now doubt you could conquer a whole fish.


over 3 years ago HeatherM

Wow! I'm not into fishy fish, but this post makes me want to be! But where are the visitors?


over 3 years ago thirschfeld

thanks HeatherM


over 3 years ago sdebrango

Suzanne is a trusted source on General Cooking.

Beautiful post and gorgeious fish, love the recipe, perfect host of ingredients with the mackerel.


over 3 years ago thirschfeld

thanks sdebrango. I have some snapper in the freezer that is going to be dedicated to your fish sticks very soon


over 3 years ago lastnightsdinner

Beautiful, Tom - the fish and the post. Can't wait to try this.


over 3 years ago thirschfeld

thanks and I hope you do and I hope you add your wonderful twists to it and report back.


over 3 years ago EmilyC

Oh my does this look good! This is right up my alley with the fennel, tomato, and nicoise olives...can't wait to make it. Your pic of the mackerel over the haricot vert is just stunning.


over 3 years ago thirschfeld

thanks EmilyC.