Words and recipe by Frank Pabst, photo Tracey Kusiewicz.

I started the Unsung Hero menu at Blue Water Cafe 17 years ago. My goal was to promote different seafood options that I was familiar with in Europe but could not find on menus in Vancouver.

This is when I began to shop in local Asian markets for seafood options I wasn’t coming across in my usual stores. Soon, my suppliers came to know that I was on the hunt for species like sea cucumber, jellyfish and slipper limpet. I was always happy to find species I was more familiar with, too—like periwinkles, sea urchin and crayfish.

It was also important that they were all sustainable ingredients, and that’s why the Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise team became such a great source for me as well.

With the Unsung Hero menu, I challenged myself to create dishes with these ingredients and make them approachable for my guests. That has helped me encourage people to try something that’s maybe out of their comfort zone.

grilled mackerel

Ingredients

Romesco sauce

4 red bell peppers
2 ripe Roma tomatoes
1 oz raw almonds
1 oz raw hazelnuts
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp focaccia breadcrumbs
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced
3 tbsp aged sherry vinegar
1 tbsp Spanish paprika
1 tsp espelette pepper
1 handful flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped

Grilled mackerel

4 mackerel fillets, 4.5 oz each, skin-on and deboned
3 tbsp olive oil
1 lemon, in wedges
8 green onions, white and green parts
4 thin slices of focaccia bread
1 clove garlic

Make It

The romesco sauce is best made the day before serving. To make it, preheat grill to high. Place red bell peppers directly on grill and cook, turning occasionally, until skins are lightly charred on all sides. Remove from heat, place in a covered bowl and let cool. Using a sharp knife, remove and discard peel and seeds, then finely chop.

Fill a bowl with ice water. Bring a small pot of water to a boil on high heat. Add tomatoes and blanch for 10 seconds, then plunge into the ice bath. Peel tomatoes, cut in half and discard seeds, then dice small.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Place almonds and hazelnuts on a baking sheet and toast for 4 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool, then rub with a kitchen towel to remove the loose skins. Roughly chop.

Heat olive oil in a small sauté pan on medium heat. Add bread crumbs and garlic and toast until golden and crispy (about 2 minutes). Add chopped nuts, bell peppers, tomatoes, shallot and vinegar. Season with paprika, salt and espelette pepper, then cook for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.

In a blender or food processor, purée 1/3 of this mixture, then add back into sauce. Add parsley and set aside to cool.

To prepare the mackerel, preheat grill to high. Brush mackerel with ½ tbsp olive oil, then season with salt and pepper and grill, skin-side-down, for 2 minutes. Turn fish over and grill for 30 seconds more, then transfer to a plate and squeeze with fresh lemon juice.

Brush green onions with ½ tbsp olive oil and grill until lightly browned. Season with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a sauté pan on medium heat. Add focaccia slices and pan-fry on both sides until golden brown and crunchy (about 2 minutes). Drain on paper towels, then rub with garlic.

Place a mackerel fillet on each plate and arrange a slice of focaccia beside the fish. Top focaccia with 2 tbsp romesco sauce and 2 green onions. Serves 4.