[Under Pressure] Recipe: Ham and Mackerel Sous Vide Sandwich w/ caper vinaigrette and lemon confit


     It’s no secret that sous vide and proteins were made for each other. However, the relationship between sous vide and fish is something special.

     I don’t cook fish very often. Out of the 6-8 people I’m usually cooking for, at least 1 of them either isn’t in the mood for it or isn’t that big on seafood. Given this lack of experience, I’m naturally not that confident in my ability to cook it properly.

     To me, the single word that best summarizes cooking with seafood is “delicate”. Consistently turning out well seasoned and, more importantly, perfectly cooked fish is the mark of a practiced hand. The margin for error is slim because conventional heating methods typically run much hotter than the delicate flesh can withstand. How many episodes of Top Chef have you seen where a chef-testant is undone by overcooked fish?

     Seasoning is almost as much of a challenge. Traditional cooking methods such as grilling, sautéing, or roasting undoubtedly help to develop complex flavors in fish. But the natural flavor of fish is easily overpowered. Assuming the fish is fresh, less is often more. There is a reason that sushi has permeated every corner of America since the 80’s. The pure flavor of fresh fish is f’ing awesome.

     Sous vide is a game changer. It is now possible to cook at such low temperatures that you can produce fish with a texture and a purity of flavor that is nearly impossible to achieve otherwise.

     After running the gamut of all the other proteins in my sous vide, I finally faced my fears. It was time to try my hand at seafood. I was nervous and excited; excited about the potential rewards of this endeavor and nervous about my ability to control the outcome. I don’t have a good track record with seafood.

     Do you remember my post on the salt dome red snapper a few months back?

     Of course you don’t, because I never wrote one. It didn’t go well. The parts of the fish that weren’t completely raw were overcooked and so salty that it was barely edible.

     I hadn’t cooked seafood since then. It would make sense that I would want to ease back into things and cook something idiot-proof. So, where did I look for inspiration?


     Thomas Keller’s “Under Pressure” is the definitive Sous Vide cookbook available today. It is also the least practical. It’s filled with recipes from his restaurants Per Se and the near legendary French Laundry. And, in true Keller fashion, it is way more advanced and calls for more prohibitively pricey ingredients than most home cooks can tackle. Not that I need to even say this, but the level of technique in his dishes is nothing short of stunning.

     This entire book is written for the professional kitchen. The ingredients are listed in the metric system, the instructions aren’t in chronological order, and many recipes call for the simultaneous use of up to 4 different sous vide machines. I’ve tried to simplify things a little and I’ve increased the serving sizes, since I doubt you’ll cook this as part of a 10 course meal.

     For better or worse, here is my take on Thomas Keller’s “Spanish Mackerel and Serrano Ham En Brioche.”

Recipe: Ham and Mackerel Sous Vide Sandwich w/ caper vinaigrette and lemon confit

Adapted from Thomas Keller’s Under Pressure

Serves 6


4 filets of Spanish mackerel (About 2 lbs)

3-4 slices of Serrano ham

12 thin-as-you-can-get-them slices of brioche

2 teaspoons of capers

½ teaspoon minced flat-leaf parsley

1 teaspoon minced shallot

1 ½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2-3 lemons (Meyer if possible)

2/3 cup water

2/3 cup sugar

Kosher salt

Clarified butter


Preheat your water bath to 141 degrees.

     The fresher the fish, the better, as sous vide will highlight the natural flavor of the fish. With mackerel, that can be a great thing or a bad one, depending on how fresh it is. Keller’s recipe calls for Spanish mackerel and I stuck with that, but could only find it whole. You can substitute for another fish if you’d like, but if you can get Spanish mackerel, use it. Why? ‘Cause Keller said so.


     If you don’t want to deal with deboning this, see if you can get your fishmonger to do it for you. They probably won’t, because it’s kind of a bitch. This video helped me.


     Once you have your filets, sprinkle each with the kosher salt and let rest at room temperature for 4-5 minutes, or until the fish starts to sweat, and then pat dry.


     Lay 1-2 strips of Serrano on one of the filets, enough to cover the flesh of the fish and to overlap the edges a little. Lay another filet, flesh side down, on top of the ham. Repeat with the other two filets, making two seperate sandwiches of fish and ham.


     Once you have your “sandwiches”, seal them in the vacuum bag and refrigerate. The longer you can refrigerate this, the better, so the proteins stick together as much as possible. Mine were refrigerated for probably 2 hours before heading into the bath.


     For the lemon confit: Cut the lemons into supremes, which is a segment of the lemon flesh with all of the peel, pith, and membranes removed. Combine the water and sugar in a saucepan and stir while bringing to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to a simmer until the liquid thickens a little. Pour the liquid over the lemon supremes and set aside to cool.

     For the vinaigrette: Combine the shallots, parsley, capers, olive oil, and a pinch of salt in a bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside until plating.

     Place the fish in the water bath for exactly 12 minutes. I let mine go for about 14, and it was more cooked through than I would have liked.

     I struggled to get my brioche thin enough, so I actually pressed the slices between two paper towels to flatten them as much as possible. Kind of ghetto, I know, but sometimes you have to improvise.


     Once the fish is done, remove from the sous vide and either drop them into an ice bath and refrigerate for later use, or remove them from the bags for immediate service. If refrigerated, bring to room temperature before the final steps.

     Cut each mackerel into 3 equal portions. Lay out 6 slices of the pressed brioche and top with the mackerel, like an open face sandwich. Trim the brioche slices so that they are even with the edges of the fish.


     Heat the clarified butter in a sauté pan over medium heat. Lay each open face sandwich in the pan and sauté for 2 minutes, pressing down slightly to stick the fish to the bread. As each piece browns on the bottom, remove from the pan, lay another piece of brioche in its place, and invert the fish onto it. You should now have 2 pieces of bread on each piece, browned side up.

     Sauté for an additional 2 minutes and remove from the pan.

     Drizzle each plate with the vinaigrette, add a few lemon supremes and a portion of mackerel, and serve.

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  1. Posted March 3, 2010 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    Good work Jon! But…how was it??

    • Posted March 3, 2010 at 10:06 am | Permalink

      I guess I probably should have mentioned that in the post, shouldn’t I? I really liked it…next time I do it I will stick to that 12 minute cooking time more closely. I think mine were slightly overcooked, but the texture of the fish was still fantastic. Mackerel has a stronger flavor than some fish, so if you can’t handle fishy at all, then it might be good to substitute. The fishy taste definitely isn’t too strong at all, and I like that flavor, but some people might not be a big fan of it.

      Either way, I loved it!

  2. Ben
    Posted March 3, 2010 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

    Did you take some pictures of the final product? It sounds delicious!

    • Posted March 3, 2010 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

      Yup…it’s the picture at the top of the post…only one pics of the finished product turned out well, and it got top billing 😉

  3. Lily
    Posted August 30, 2010 at 2:48 am | Permalink

    Wow, great recipe! Excellent results at home when I made it. I just replaced the ham by some Spanish iberico de bellota ham, also called black hoof or pata negra for an improved and more refine taste. Definitely one recipe to keep on my cooking book.
    If you need to find jamon iberico, go to BuyJamon.com

    BuyJamon.com buy jamon iberico online and have it delivered to your door.

  4. Trevor Teich
    Posted February 28, 2011 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

    Very good try, but you cut the fillets too large, and used a serrated knife to cut the fish. Keep it up.

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