BY NICK MACMAHON | 7 MAY 2019
Mackerel is the name used for about 21 different species of fish around the world, but in Britain, the fish we know as mackerel is scomber scombrus, the Atlantic Mackerel. It’s affordable, delicious, super easy to cook and really good for you. A classic weeknight dinner fish. Usually sold whole or in prepackaged fillets. Unlike other finicky, delicate white fish, the mackerel is super easy to cook and hard to screw up. The most important thing when cooking mackerel is making sure your fish is super fresh. Mackerel doesn’t hold up well sitting in the fridge too long so always try to cook it the day you buy it. If the mackerel are sold whole, ask your fishmonger if they can fillet the fish for you. Fillets are the easiest way to deal with mackerel so try to get fillets if you can.
Cooking mackerel doesn't have to be a messy or difficult task. Don’t concern yourself with frying pans and the inevitable fish skin sticking to the pan. At the end of a workday, an ugly piece of mackerel and burnt fish skin on your frying pan is pretty unwelcome. This is where your oven and its grill setting is your friend. Line a baking tray with foil or baking paper. Place the fillets skin side up, sprinkle with salt and drizzle with olive oil. Place in the oven, about 10cm below the grill. Depending on how big your fillets are, it should take about 5-7 minutes to cook. The skin will blister and crisp up, then check the underside of the fish to see if it is cooked.
Many chefs recommend scoring the mackerel skin to prevent the fish curling but that’s an issue of aesthetics more than practicality.
Now that you’ve cooked your mackerel, you can now work out what to add to it. You can keep it simple with just a squeeze of lemon and serve it alongside other dishes or you can add more ingredients to make a complete meal.
Mackerel has a firm flesh, it is oily and has quite a fishy flavour. To balance these qualities you need to cut through the oiliness with something acidic like lemon juice or white wine vinegar. Then to round out those two strong flavours, the addition of a gentle sweetness helps bring it all together. This could come in the form of sweet vegetables, like onions, corn, capsicum or cooked carrots. Or you could even incorporate fruits, that’s why lemon works so well with fish, it combines sour and sweet. Try another citrus like lime, orange, or even grapefruit. From then you can add other gentler flavours, soft herbs like dill, coriander, or oregano are a good match. There are so many flavour combinations possible which make this fish incredibly versatile and a lot of fun to cook.
Season: JAN FEB MAR APR MAY JUN JUL AUG SEP OCT NOV DEC
NOTE: Atlantic Mackerel is the largest and most profitable catch for British Fisheries and it is so often thought of as a truly sustainable fish. Unfortunately, the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) has recently reported that mackerel populations are in decline and current stock quotas are double the maximum level recommended by ICES. The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) in February 2019 stated that all mackerel caught in the North-East Atlantic will not be given the MSC approval status of sustainability until the growth of the mackerel population improves. For the consumer, this means if you are going to eat mackerel ensure that the mackerel you buy is as sustainable as possible. Only source fish caught locally using traditional methods including handlines, ring nets and drift nets.
Here are some of our Mackerel recipes.