Mackerel is one of the most common fish in our seas but it seems that many Irish people are strangely averse to enjoying it. Here, we give you more information about mackerel to help you utilise this delicious fish.
Our Back to Basics series takes a look at some common ingredients to help our readers make the most of the great produce that we have access to here in Ireland. Previously we looked at scallops, housekeeper’s cut of beef, chicken thighs, and pork belly; today we're looking at mackerel.
Mackerel is a torpedo-shaped, type of pelagic fish, meaning it spends most of its time close to the bottom or shore of lakes and the sea, that typically have striped backs and forked tails. They are part of the scombridae family, which also includes tuna and bonito. Like tuna, mackerel have very small scales, swim very fast and need to eat a lot, feeding mostly on smaller fish and prawns.
Mackerel are categorised as oily fish, which means they are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids. The flesh is creamy and slightly salty, so it holds up very to strong flavours like citrus, chilli and pepper. While you can buy mackerel raw, it is often sold smoked and ready to eat.
Atlantic mackerel is the most common variety seen here in Ireland and there were fears late last year that a mackerel shortage was imminent in the upcoming season. However, mackerel have been seen in large quantities off the coast of Ireland recently, temporarily alleviating worries. Mackerel come into season around April and stay around our shores until the end of September or early October, however imported mackerel is available year-round.
When selecting mackerel, as with most fish, there are a few things you should look out for. Firstly, buy your mackerel from a fishmonger, as they will be able to advise you on your purchase. They will also be able to prepare the fish for you, if that’s something you feel nervous about. Next, it’s important to make sure your fish is fresh when you buy it: look out for bright eyes, shiny skin and firm flesh. The mackerel also shouldn’t give off any majorly fishy smell – fresh fish should only smell like the sea.
Mackerel is quite a bony fish, which means you should always take extra care when preparing it – This is where your fishmonger will be able to help you. Make sure the fish properly cleaned and scaled before you cook it. Mackerel is very versatile so it stands up well to barbecuing or grilling, as the smoky flavours compliment the oily fish. As we mentioned, mackerel is often sold smoked, in which case try it flaked over salads, into fish pies or as the base protein in fish cakes.
Looking for some recipe inspiration? Read on for our favourite ways to cook mackerel.
- Jo Pratt's teriyaki mackerel is a delicious take on traditional Asian flavours.
- Takashi Miyazaki's mackerel spine karinto is an innovative recipe for using up part of the fish that is usually discarded.
- These smoked mackerel and chive pâté baskets from Louise Lennox make great canapés.