How to de-bone a slimy mackerel with massage

"The original marketing dish:" Slimy mackerel.
"The original marketing dish:" Slimy mackerel. Photo: Tony Walters

It's generally agreed that playing with your food is bad manners, but when playing turns to massaging it becomes an ancient Ottoman culinary technique.

Slimy mackerel is a dish you won't see on every menu and if you do it will likely be around this time of year, when it starts to appear to mark the end of Ramadan: the annual month of fasting in the Islamic calendar. 

"In the Ottoman Empire at the end of Ramadan all the meyhane [meze bar] owners would send this dish to their customers," says owner and chef of Efendy restaurant, Somer Sivrioglu.

Somer Sivrioglu gives the slimy mackerel a true "Turkish" massage.
Somer Sivrioglu gives the slimy mackerel a true "Turkish" massage. Photo: Tony Walters

"They would cook it and send it to their regulars to say, remember, we are still here! Ramadan is over, we can eat and drink again.

"That's why it's the original marketing dish," he says.

But this dish is not only one to try for its historical roots.

After receiving a gentle 6-minute "Turkish" massage, the bones, guts and carcass are squeezed out through the head - leaving the mackerel whole, boneless and ripe for stuffing. 

As the name suggests, the slimy mackerel is one of the oiliest of fish, allowing for the bones to be squeezed out in such a fashion.

Sivrioglu serves the dish in the lead up to the end of Ramadan each year at his Balmain restaurant.

"This is one of the most under priced fish in Australia," he says, pulling the organs of the fish out through the head, leaving a blood red pool on the chopping board.

Careful not to pierce the skin of the mackerel, he wraps it in a blue Chux, much like a masseuse wraps its client in a hot towel.

"I will massage it very carefully for 5 minutes and then very slowly break the tail on two sides," he says. 

"And then slowly, very slowly I can pull out the whole carcass."

The technique is initially gory, but as a stuffing of pine nuts, mint, parsley, cumin, barberries and cinnamon finds its way into the body of the mackerel, all memories of blood and guts are soon forgotten.