May's Can't-Miss Dish

Smoked Spanish Mackerel at Dear Annie Wine Bar
By Ellen Bhang · 05/03/2022

Looking for a no-fail, mouthwatering, gonna-tell-your-friends-about-it plate? Each month, Boston Globe columnist Ellen Bhang highlights the dish you need to try right now—and something to sip alongside it.


Smoked Spanish Mackerel at Dear Annie Wine Bar


On the plate: Smoked Spanish Mackerel

Where to find it: Brilliant things happen when the proprietors of a natural wine bar and a farm-to-table restaurant join forces on a new venue. Case in point is Dear Annie, a collaboration between Lauren Friel, sommelier-owner of Rebel Rebel in Somerville’s Bow Market, and chef Andrew Brady and Sara Markey, the husband-and-wife owners of nearby Field & Vine. The buzzy wine bar, located near Porter Square in Cambridge, is communal in spirit like a pub, but done in a lighter, brighter color palette than a typical neighborhood tavern. 

A long, ivory-hued table in the middle of the place is decorated with candles and seasonal blooms. It sets the mood, along with potted plants, other low-slung tables, and an eclectic mix of stools and folding chairs. Twenty natural wines are on offer by the glass each night, as well as a variety of vegetable-heavy and pescatarian-friendly small plates. One dish in particular, from a section of the menu entitled “Not Tinned Fish (House Preserved in the Style of the Thing),” will forever change your notions of pub grub.  

Notes on the nosh: Smoked Spanish Mackerel is the focus of a plate composed with fresh green herbs, colorful pickled vegetables, and thick slices of bread that’s baked fresh daily. Brady cures the firm-textured fish overnight in salt and sugar, then smokes it with peach wood until it’s fully cooked before packing the skinless fillets in extra-virgin olive oil seasoned with lemon peel, garlic, and bay leaf. When it’s time to serve, a glossy dollop of pickled mustard seeds tops the mackerel, which arrives in a shallow dish slick with some of the brightly flavored oil.

The fish is described as “BBQ of the Sea” on the menu. “You get the sweet and the tang from the mustard seeds, the mustard flavor as well, and the smoky meatiness of the fish,” Brady explains. “We tried it, and we all thought, ‘This tastes like barbecue!’”

Sip alongside: Like Rebel Rebel, which recently earned a James Beard award nomination in the category of Outstanding Wine Program, Dear Annie offers a deep selection of natural wine. It’s a category made from grapes grown in an organic or biodynamic manner, crafted without additives other than a hint of sulfur at bottling to keep things fresh and clean. Because most natural winemakers produce small quantities of wine—think hundreds (rather than hundreds of thousands) of cases—don’t be surprised if their coveted bottles are here one day and gone the next. 

While it’s rare you’ll encounter the same wine night after night, Friel’s teams love to feature favorite producers like Philippe Tessier, based in France’s verdant Loire Valley. One evening at Dear Annie, a fizzy, golden-hued sparkler called “Phil en bulle,” crafted at Domaine Tessier using romorantin and orbois grapes, paired winningly with our snacks. The wine’s minerally tang and perky effervescence were wonderfully refreshing—every bit as delightful as the crunchy pop of mustard seeds adorning the smoked mackerel.

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