Mackerel

17 October 2017

Mackerel
Photo: Petar Milošević

Mackerel is a beautiful oily fish, famously rich in those omega-3 fatty acids, but equally importantly with a fantastic robust flavour that has helped make it one of the most heavily consumed fish worldwide. It was looked down upon for a long time since it was abundant and cheap. Although it remains a lower-priced fish, it has started to take its place in the fine dining restaurants of the country.

It is at its best prepared simply - fillets pan fried for a couple of minutes on the skin side until the skin becomes golden and crispy, at which point 30 seconds to a minute on the other side and you’re done. Or alternatively grill it along the same principle - skin side first until it is crispy and charred. If you want to go fancy, you can sous vide it in a water bath set to 50ºC for about 20 minutes. That said, I’m a great fan of sous vide for most things, but I’ve yet to bother for mackerel. Since you have to crisp the skin anyway and it takes the same amount of time, it is almost redundant. 

What mackerel gets eaten around the world very much depends on where you are. The Atlantic mackerel is only found in the Atlantic (the clue is in the name), whereas off the east coast of America you will find the Atlantic Spanish mackerel. The Chub mackerel is widespread through the pacific ocean , and the Chilean jack mackerel gets the most intensively-harvested crown, being distributed through South America down to Australia. 

Sustainability

At the time of writing, mackerel is in good shape in terms of sustainability. Having been called into question for a couple of years at a time when catches had been made at higher levels than scientific advice (during the so-called ‘Mackerel war’), it won back its certified MSC status in 2016. An international alliance of fishing boats, the Mackerel Industry Northern Sustainability Alliance, came together at the height of the crisis to work together to prove the sustainability credentials of the fish. It was a beacon of partnership working between fishing industry and governments against a backdrop where agreements on fish catches were generally failures.

Mackerel reproduce quickly, which makes them more resilient in the face of the fishing industry than some, and it means that they are available all year round.

Food waste notes

Any fish should be cooked the same day you get it, ideally, since freshness is such a big deal when it comes to the fish world. But that particularly holds true for mackerel, which spoils quickly unless stored carefully or cured. Basically, don’t buy it until you want to eat it. 

What does Mackerel go with?

The strong flavour of mackerel means it can stand up to a wide range of ingredients. It will work well with some of the things that traditionally go with a wider range of fish, such as fennel, or a tangy tomato salsa. But it will also happily cope with strong, spicy flavours. You’ll see recipes that pair it with horseradish on the one hand, and others that take another common pairing - gooseberry - on the other.