Mackerel: Originating from the Scombridae fish family, along with fellow swimmers, tuna and bonito, mackerel is widely available and can be found worldwide in differing varieties.
Mackerel caught off British shores are sustainably enjoyed throughout the summer months, starting in June, all the way through to September/October; reaching peak season in July. Just remember that the best choice for mackerel remains locally caught using traditional handline methods.
Fresh, in season mackerel should appear vibrant in colour, with shiny scales and vividly bright eyes. This inexpensive fish is not only packed full of rich flavour, it also offers the best nutrients of any oily fish with extremely high levels of omega-3 fatty acids.
Seasonal period: June to October
Flavour friends: As a rule-of-thumb, you must avoid using dairy-based ingredients when cooking with fresh mackerel, flaked smoked mackerel however, liberally mixed into cream cheese with lashings of lemon zest and fresh herbs makes for a perfect pate.
Although lemon offers freshness and lift to an otherwise rich recipe, a great addition to any mackerel pate is the peppery flavours of horseradish. Its biting and acidic tendencies are ideal for cutting through the mackerel, yet its creamy flavours complements accompanying dairy ingredients. Fresh is often best to pack-a-punch, but creamed horseradish makes for a more subtle palate.
It also a great fish for carrying aromatic and fragrant flavours – mackerel therefore works particularly well in Asian cooking.
Buying, storing and preparing: Mackerel is best eaten on the day in which it is caught,however will keep for a couple of days if refrigerated sufficiently. Select fish that have bright, shiny scales and crystal clear eyes. They also should not smell overally fishy, but rather have a salt aroma of the sea.
When storing, ensure the fish is clean, scaled and gutted. Place on a plate, cover with a damp cloth and then wrap with cling film – eat within 3 days.
Cooking: Mackerel is a highly versatile, robust fish perfect for grilling, baking, frying or barbecuing, cooked whole or filleted.
Pan-fried: Heat a dash of oil in a frying pan until very hot, place in the filleted fish, skin side down and allow to brown for 4 -5 minutes. Whilst the flesh is facing up, season with salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon. When the skin is crispy, flip the fish and cook on the flesh side for 3 – 4 minutes. Remove from pan using spatula and serve.
Whole mackerel will take 5 – 6 minutes either side depending on size of the fish.
Baked: Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas 6. Place in butter foil parcels with a twist of lemon, salt and pepper and bake fillets for for 15 minutes. Allow 20 – 25 minutes for whole mackerel.
Wood-fired Mackerel with Gooseberry, Apple & Vanilla Purée with Pickled Gooseberries
Barbecued Mackerel with ginger, chilli and Lime
Grilled Mackerel with Spiced Lentil and Kachumber Salad
Whole Roast Mackerel with Samphire, Garlic and Tomatoes
Mackerel and Beetroot Open Sandwich
Words by Helen Upshall