Skip to main content

Mackerel Recipes and Cooking Techniques

Gordon has been cooking and experimenting with food since childhood. He loves coming up with new and tasty culinary creations.

Mackerel in red pesto sauce with salad

Mackerel in red pesto sauce with salad

Mackerel Is Cheap, Nutritious and Delicious!

There are many reasons why all of us should eat more fresh mackerel. It is packed full of omega-3 fatty acids and other valuable nutrients, it is a fairly inexpensive fish in relation to other popular edible species and the number of tasty ways in which you can cook it up and serve it is staggering.

If you're not in the habit of eating fresh mackerel—or even if you are—this article is devoted to showing just a fraction of the many possible delicious mackerel recipes that can easily be prepared and enjoyed at home. Why not browse these recipe ideas, try coming up with a few of your own and give mackerel a go today? You may just find that you love it as much as I do!

Tips for Buying Fresh Mackerel

Mackerel—like all types of fish—is always best eaten fresh. If you are fortunate enough to be able to go mackerel fishing and catch your own supply, clearly you won't have a problem in this respect. If not, however, you will have to find a way of ensuring the mackerel you do buy is as fresh as possible.

The first step is to buy your mackerel from a reputable source. A clean, well-established local fishmonger's or a supermarket which has a high turnover of fresh seafood are both ideal. Look for mackerel with clear eyes (not glazed and milky white) and bright purple gills. If possible, smell the fish. Contrary to what may be popular belief, fresh fish does not smell of fish—only fish past its best smells that powerful. Instead, fresh mackerel should smell slightly salty, of the sea from which they have recently been caught.

Fresh Atlantic Mackerel

Fresh Atlantic Mackerel

Freshly gutted mackerel

Freshly gutted mackerel

How to Clean and Gut a Mackerel

This step is essential prior to cooking whole mackerel by any method. Mackerel are a very easy fish to clean. You will probably find this easiest to do this at your sink as it is best to have some cold running water close to hand and the mess is easier to clean up afterwards.

Hold the mackerel in your weaker hand, belly side up and head furthest away from you. Carefully insert the point of a very sharp knife at the small opening slightly behind centre and slit all the way up the centre of the belly to the head. Lay the knife down and with your fingers, pull out the contents of the belly cavity and discard. Wash the mackerel under a gentle stream of cold water and it is ready to be cooked.

Mackerel ready to be poached

Mackerel ready to be poached

How to Poach Mackerel

Poaching mackerel by this method is not by any means the quickest way of cooking it but it may be the safest, in terms that it is easy and as foolproof as any cooking method can ever be.

Begin by laying the whole, gutted mackerel in the base of a large soup or stock pot. Don't cook too many at a time in the same pot as there has to be room for plenty of water. Pour in enough water to ensure all the mackerel are comfortably covered. Season very well with salt. The water should be as salty as the sea.

Put the pot on to a high heat, just until the water begins to boil. Turn off the heat immediately and carefully move the pot to a cool section of your stove. Put the lid on the pot and leave it alone for a couple of hours. The mackerel will cook to perfection in the cooling water, leaving them juicy, succulent and tender.

Poached mackerel is flaked before being added to warm bruschetta and served with a simple salsa

Poached mackerel is flaked before being added to warm bruschetta and served with a simple salsa

Poached Mackerel, Bruschetta and Salsa

Prep timeCook timeReady inYields

30 min

1 hour 30 min

2 hours

Two

Ingredients

  • 2 whole poached mackerel
  • 1 medium ripe tomato
  • 2 " piece of cucumber
  • 2 large garlic cloves
  • 5 or 6 fresh basil leaves
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil plus extra drizzles for bruschetta
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 slices from a French bread stick
  • 2 sprigs of basil to garnish

Instructions

  1. When you have set the mackerel aside to cool, you should prepare the salsa. This will allow the different flavours time to infuse before serving. Cut the tomato and cucumber piece in half and scrape out the seeds and pulp with a teaspoon. Finely dice the flesh and add to a small glass or stone bowl. Peel one of the garlic cloves and finely dice. Place the basil leaves one on top of the other and roll like a carpet. Finely slice. Add the garlic and basil to the bowl and season with sea salt and black pepper. Spoon in the oil, mix thoroughly, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until required.
  2. When the mackerel are cooled, lift them from the water by hand, one at a time. (Make sure the water is cool!) You may well find that the flesh has already started to part from the bones. Either way, you will be able to very easily pull the flesh off the bones in large chunks. The skin of mackerel is very thin and can be eaten but if desired, you can remove it simply by rubbing it gently with the ball of your thumb. Do be sure to remove and discard the fins.
  3. Toast the bread slices on both sides until golden. Peel and lightly crush the second garlic clove. Rub it over the top of each slice of bread then drizzle the slices with extra virgin olive oil. Season with salt and black pepper.
  4. Divide the salsa evenly between two small ramekins, garnish each with a basil sprig and lay on the serving plates with the bruschetta. Lay the mackerel pieces on top of the bruschetta and serve.
Mackerel is coated in red pesto sauce before being baked and served on a simple salad bed

Mackerel is coated in red pesto sauce before being baked and served on a simple salad bed

Red Pesto Baked Mackerel With Mediterranean Style Salad

Prep timeCook timeReady inYields

10 min

20 min

30 min

One

Ingredients

  • 1 gutted mackerel
  • 1 tbsp red pesto sauce
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 medium tomato
  • 3 " piece of cucumber
  • Large handful fresh rocket leaves/arugula
  • 8 to 10 pitted black olives
  • Extra virgin olive oil (optional)
  • 6 large basil leaves for garnish

Instructions

  1. Start by getting your oven on to preheat to 375F/190C. It is then not essential but recommended that you snip the fins off the mackerel with kitchen scissors. This will make removing the flesh from the cooked fish easier.
  2. Place a large sheet of tinfoil on a baking tray. Lay the mackerel on a chopping board and make three diagonal slits on each side with a sharp knife. The slits should go right to the bone in each instance. Spread half the red pesto on one side with a small spoon or blunt edged knife. Lay the fish pesto side down on the foil and spread the remainder of the pesto on the other side. Wrap the foil in to a sealed but loose package and place in the oven for 20 minutes.
  3. Wash the rocket/arugula and lay it on a serving plate. Distribute the black olives evenly over the top. Chop the tomato in to six segments and the cucumber in to six pieces. Arrange on the salad leaves. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle (optionally) with a little extra virgin olive oil.
  4. Remove the mackerel from the oven and very carefully unwrap it as there will be a lot of escaping steam. You will see from the relevant picture below that the flesh should have separated where you made the scores, allowing you to easily slide it sideways off the bone. When you have removed the flesh from the top, the bone should easily lift free, allowing you similar access to the second side of the fish.
  5. Lay the mackerel pieces on the salad. Roll the basil leaves and finely shred before scattering over the top as a final garnish.

How to Fillet Mackerel

There are two principal ways in which it is possible to fillet mackerel and other similar fish. When you buy mackerel fillets from a fishmonger's or supermarket, it is likely that the fish will have been filleted by cutting it open the length of its belly and essentially pressing down on the backbone to flatten the fish and free the backbone. The problem with filleting mackerel this way is that the flesh can often be damaged when removing the main bone and the number of smaller bones left intact can be considerable. This either means a great deal of extra work with tweezers or running the risk of getting a bone stuck in your throat when you eat the fish.

Given the above information, you may not be surprised to learn that I always use the second method of filleting mackerel. I fillet them this way whether I am doing so on the deck of a boat to use them as bait or in the kitchen to eat. This second method, described in detail below in text and pictures, involves taking the fillet off either side of the mackerel. It is much quicker and easier, the flesh remains in pristine condition and there are fewer small bones left in the fillets.

Before you even contemplate trying this out for yourself, however, you will have to make sure you have a proper filleting knife. You will not be able to do this with just any kitchen knife, however sharp. The reason for this is that filleting knives are not only extremely sharp, the blade is flexible, allowing you to make the required maneouvres to take the fillets from the fish. If you want anything approaching best results when filleting fish—just like in so many other situations in life—it is necessary to have the proper tools for the job.

There are some who prefer to gut mackerel prior to filleting them in this way, claiming it makes the procedure easier. This mackerel has not been gutted but if you think it is easier to do so in the first instance, the procedures thereafter will remain exactly the same.

Instructions

  1. Lay the mackerel on its side on a steady chopping board. The head should be facing your weaker side—ie, if you are right-handed—the head should be to the left.
  2. Hold the head in your weaker hand and make a cut just behind the pectoral (head) fin, angled slightly towards the head, right through to the backbone.
  3. Twist the knife gently (this is where a flexible blade is essential), still touching the bone, to face the tail and use a see-saw cutting motion, at right angles to the fish and keeping the knife horizontal, to slice along the bone all the way to the tail. Remove the fillet and lay to one side.
  4. Turn the mackerel over and do exactly the same on the second side. Remove the fillet.
  5. This method of filleting will still leave you with some small pin bones in the flesh. Particularly with larger fillets, it is worth taking a moment or two to run your hand over each fillet, against the grain, to locate these bones and remove them with a pair of tweezers.
  6. Wash any guts and blood from the fillets, pat them dry with kitchen paper and cook as soon as possible by one of the methods below or your own chosen technique.
Spicy pan fried mackerel fillets

Spicy pan fried mackerel fillets

Spicy Pan Fried Mackerel Fillets

This is an incredibly quick and easy recipe for mackerel fillets, featured merely to illustrate how little cooking and preparation time is required before they are ready to eat. This way of cooking them allows the fillets to be accompanied by any number of different ingredients. In this instance, the fillets were made to be slightly spicy and were served as the simplest of starters with some Indian spiced onions.

Prep Time: Two minutes

Total Time: Five or six minutes

Serves: One

Ingredients

  • 2 small mackerel loin fillets
  • 2 tbsp plain/all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp hot chilli powder
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil for frying
  • Indian spiced onions or accompaniment of choice

Instructions

  1. Put the flour on to a dinner plate along with the chilli powder and salt. Shake gently to combine.
  2. Put the oil in to a non-stick frying pan and bring it up to a medium to high heat.
  3. Pat the skin side only of the mackerel fillets in the seasoned flour and gently shake off excess. Lay the fillets on their skin sides in the frying pan.
  4. When you can see that the mackerel fillets are cooked almost all the way to the top—two to three minutes—reduce the heat to minimum and turn the fillets on to their flesh sides for one minute only.
  5. Remove the mackerel fillets to a plate, add your accompaniments or garnish and serve immediately.
Poached mackerel fillet and onion on bread roll

Poached mackerel fillet and onion on bread roll

Poached Mackerel Fillet and Onion on Bread Roll

This recipe is a slightly different take on the basic, whole poached mackerel featured further up this page. Where it is being properly pickled, mackerel will take a number of days in the vinegar—minimum—before it is ready to eat. This method imparts a lot of the flavours and textures in just two to three hours. This dish also features a supermarket bought mackerel fillet.

Note that the lengthy prep time is simply due to the mackerel being left to cool in the poaching liquid. The time is almost exclusively hands-off.

Prep timeReady inYields

2 hours

2 hours

One

Ingredients

  • 1 mackerel fillet
  • 1/2 small white onion
  • Tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp whole black peppercorns
  • 1 bread roll
  • Slices of tomato to garnish
  • Slices of cucumber to garnish

Instructions

  1. Check the mackerel fillet for an excess of large bones and remove any where required with tweezers. Lay the fillet in a large pot with the half onion (sliced,) the salt and the peppercorns. Add enough cold water to more than comfortably cover the ingredients. Heat until the water only just begins to simmer, turn off the heat, cover and leave for a couple of hours to cool.
  2. Half the bread roll and toast the opened sides to golden. Lay on a serving plate with the salad. Remove the mackerel fillet from the water with a large slotted spoon or by hand and fold it on the bottom half of the roll. Optionally, add a few strands of the onion. Place the top on the roll, serve and enjoy.
Pan Fried Mackerel in Oatmeal with Minted New Potatoes

Pan Fried Mackerel in Oatmeal with Minted New Potatoes

Pan Fried Mackerel in Oatmeal With Minted New Potatoes

This is a slightly different take on an old Scottish dish. The difference is that herring would normally be the fish used but mackerel is one of the few species which makes an effective substitute.

Prep timeCook timeReady inYields

10 min

20 min

30 min

One

Ingredients

  • 5 or 6 baby new potatoes
  • 1 mackerel fillet
  • 2 tbsp medium oatmeal
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • Little bit of butter
  • Salt
  • 3 or 4 freshly chopped mint leaves
  • Malt vinegar

Instructions

  1. Wash the potatoes and add them unpeeled to a pot of lightly salted, cold water. Bring the water to a boil and simmer for about 25 minutes or until the potatoes are softened.
  2. Scatter the oatmeal on a plate and pat the mackerel fillet on both sides to coat. Fry on a gentle heat in the oil for a two to three minutes each side until cooked and the oatmeal is crisped.
  3. Drain the potatoes and return them to the pot with the butter and chopped mint. Gently swirl to evenly coat.
  4. Plate the potatoes and mackerel and season the mackerel with salt and malt vinegar to taste.

Scottish Smoked Mackerel

Mackerel is commonly hot smoked—the smoking method which cooks the fish as well as smoking it—and sold either individually or in vacuum packs such as the one pictured below. Although it is possible to heat smoked mackerel, or technically even to cook it in very delicate ways, it is most definitely bought ready to eat and best served this way. The only question is what we serve to accompany it and you will find a few suggestions in this respect below.

Scottish smoked mackerel

Scottish smoked mackerel

Supermarket pack of smoked mackerel

Supermarket pack of smoked mackerel

Smoked Mackerel Is Stored in a Plastic Dish

It is worth pointing out that if you buy a packet of smoked mackerel and are not going to be using it all at once, it should be stored in the refrigerator in a plastic dish, like the one above designed for bacon, not the opened packet. This will not only ensure it does stay fresh for a couple of days, it will prevent the smell affecting everything else in the fridge!

Smoked mackerel is stored in a plastic dish

Smoked mackerel is stored in a plastic dish

Smoked Mackerel Usually Comes With the Skin On

When you buy smoked mackerel, it will almost certainly still have the skin on. The good news is that it is extremely easy to peel off and usually comes away in one piece. Ideally, you should do this and discard the skin before plating the mackerel.

how-to-cook-mackerel-2
how-to-cook-mackerel-2

Smoked Mackerel With Clapshot: A Truly Scottish Affair

The smoked mackerel is served here with clapshot, a traditional dish from the North of Scotland. Clapshot is simply mashed potato and Swede turnip (rutabaga) with butter, seasoned with salt and pepper and freshly chopped chives.

how-to-cook-mackerel-2

Smoked Mackerel With Simple Salad: A Perfect Summer Lunch

This is surely about as simple a lunch as it gets, with absolutely no cooking and virtually no preparation required. The mackerel is simply skinned and plated with a few traditional salad items and some fresh bread and butter. Delicious!

Smoked mackerel and chive infused butter

Smoked mackerel and chive infused butter

Smoked Mackerel and Chive Infused Butter

Do you find the butter you spread on your bread or toast to be a little bit boring and unimaginative? Would you like to easily liven it up a bit and make it suitable for inventive starters or appetizers, light lunches or imaginative snacks, as well as your everyday breakfast? Herb infused butter of many different types is delicious for all these purposes but by including smoked mackerel in this recipe, along with chives, we have taken the process one step further along the road of tastiness.

Prep timeCook timeReady inYields

15 min

1 hour 45 min

2 hours

Two

Ingredients

  • 1 small smoked mackerel fillet
  • 1/2 tsp freshly chopped chives
  • 2 oz unsalted butter
  • Generous pinch white pepper
  • Hot buttered toast or crackers to serve

Instructions

  1. The quantities here for the smoked mackerel and butter are guidelines, as fillet sizes will vary and the precise amount of mackerel you put in to your ramekin and how tightly you pack it will affect the room available for the butter. You may not need the full 2 ounces (half a stick) but it is better to have too much than not enough.
  2. Peel the skin from the mackerel and break it in to medium sized flakes. Add them to the dry ramekin and press down gently but not too much as you want to leave room for the butter to permeate. You should leave around half an inch gap at the top of the ramekin. Scatter on the chives.
  3. Put the butter in to a small saucepan, season with the white pepper (you will get all the salt you need from the mackerel) and gently melt. It is a good idea to lift the pan away from the direct heat just before the butter is fully melted and complete the process by gently swirling it. This eliminates any risk of the butter starting to brown.
  4. Pour the butter very carefully in to the ramekin, filling it right to the brim. Cover with a plastic food cover and leave it for at least two hours or until completely set.
  5. If you are preparing the butter well in advance, you can refrigerate it, covered with plastic wrap. It will keep in this way for two or three days. Try to remove it from the fridge, however, about an hour before it is required that it may soften at room temperature. If this is not practical, a good tip is to dip the blade of a knife in some boiling water before using it to spread your butter.
  6. Serve this butter with hot toast, crackers, salad, or any accompaniment of choice. One ramekin should do two people as a tasty starter or appetizer.

Thank you for taking the time to read through this article. I hope you have found it informative and helpful. Any comments or feedback which you have may be left in the space immediately below.