An economical fish that’s perfect for the barbie
The past 10 years have been a bit of a rollercoaster ride for mackerel. The turn of the decade saw a huge push for its consumption, from both the government and notable chefs—and, clearly, we listened: only two years later, it was duly whipped off the MSC sustainable fish to eat list and placed in the warning zone. While stocks have fluctuated, when bought from sustainable fisheries such as those at Borough Market, you can rest assured this healthy and delicious fish can be enjoyed guilt-free.
“We catch them rod and line from our day boat, down in Dorset,” says Andy at Shellseekers Fish and Game, where mackerel can be found glinting among the ice, bright eyed and silver tailed. A warmer weather fish, “they’ve just come in in the last couple of weeks.”
With its dense, creamy-white flesh and distinctive flavour, not only is mackerel economical, it’s also “highly versatile,” adds Borough Market demo chef Luke Mackay—as can be seen in his recipe for mackerel three ways. “In just one dish, I serve it pickled in vinegar; cooked on the grill to give it crispy salted skin, served with a dash of lemon juice; and as a tartare, so raw, skin removed, flesh chopped finely and mixed with lemon juice, crème fresh, chives and some red onion. The tartare is light and fresh, so the flavour of the mackerel really comes through. “
Due to the fish’s natural oiliness (“in a really good way!” emphasises Luke) mackerel pairs excellently with acidic flavours. Keep your eyes peeled for the arrival of gooseberries as summer gets into swing—a classic combination which Roopa Gulati serves in the form of mackerel with gooseberry sauce, enlivened with a touch of chilli. “Anything pickled, sharp, or strong-tasting works well and it can take quite a lot of seasoning, so don’t be shy,” says Luke. “It also goes with anything you’d have with meat—horseradish, for example, works really well, particularly with smoked mackerel which adds another layer of interest. I also love seared mackerel fillet with pickled beetroot, it makes for a really nice starter. The acidity of the pickle cuts through the mackerel’s fattiness, without killing its flavour.”
You can ask your fishmonger to fillet it for you, ready to pan fry, grill or roast, or Luke assures us it’s easy enough to do at home. “Once you know how to fillet one fish, you can fillet any fish. It just takes some practice,” he says. “Work around the rib cage—a lot of people go straight through it, which is why you get all the bones, but if you do it this way it’s pretty much bone-free. A pair of tweezers are useful to pick out any little bones.”
Though you can, of course, cook the fish whole. “My favourite way to cook mackerel is just in a really hot oven, or on a barbecue—in fact, that’s the best way to cook it,” smiles Luke. “Just stick it straight on the barbie, add a bit of oil, salt and pepper, and let the skin go crispy. It will char on the outside and remain tender inside. It’s lovely. It’s the perfect warm weather food.”