Date-stuffed whole mackerel

4 people


130g medjool dates, pitted
50ml orange juice
2 medium lemons
4 mackerel (roughly 180g each), cleaned and gutted
24-30 vine leaves 
4 tbsp olive oil, plus extra
40g watercress
Sea salt and ground black pepper


  1. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6. Put the dates and orange juice in a saucepan and place on a low heat. Stir for about a minute, just to warm up, then break the dates into a rough paste using a fork.

  2. Take one lemon, slice it as thinly as you can and remove the pips. Cut the other lemon into four wedges.

  3. Make three shallow parallel cuts on both sides of each mackerel. Use a sharp knife to create a large cavity in the fishes' stomachs. Sprinkle salt and pepper inside and outside the fish, and spread the date paste inside.

  4. Line a work surface with roughly six prepared vine leaves (see intro), veiny side up and slightly overlapping. You want a rectangular surface with a width smaller than the fish's length (to allow the head and tail to protrude from both sides) and a length at least four times the fish's width. Repeat with the remaining leaves. Lay one fish along the base of each vine square, about 3cm from the bottom. Place three or four lemon slices on top of each fish, slightly overlapping, avoiding the head and the tail. Roll the bottom strip of leaves over the lemon slices, then roll the whole fish up in the leaves until tightly covered, with only head and tail sticking out.

  5. Heat a ridged griddle pan (or barbecue). Once very hot, brush the fish parcels with oil, lay them on the griddle at right angles to the ridges, and grill for two minutes a side. Transfer to an oven tray, brush each parcel with more oil, and roast for four minutes, until just cooked.

  6. Serve at once with a lemon wedge on the side and a little pile of watercress lightly dressed with olive oil and seasoned with salt.