What Is Mackerel?
Mackerel is a fish which is probably every bit as delicious when smoked as salmon. That sounds like and is quite an audacious claim, but hopefully, if you can get some fresh mackerel and give this technique a go, you will soon agree. While the King of Fish (salmon) retails at a price more than many can afford, mackerel is one of the cheapest fish on the market and just about as underrated as fish gets. Easy to catch, easy to fillet, super nutritious, and tasty in the extreme, mackerel gives a fish eating experience that few others can match and the smoking techniques featured on this page have been developed over time, tried and tested to hopefully ensure you enjoy this piscatorial delight at its very best.
Note that the mackerel featured on this page are Atlantic mackerel, freshly caught from the beautiful waters of Loch Fyne in the West of Scotland. The procedures should work equally well with its cousins, such as King or Spanish mackerel.
Tips for Filleting Mackerel for Smoking
While it is of course essential to remove the mackerel fillets from the main skeleton of the fish before they are smoked by this method, the decision on this occasion was made to stop at that stage and not fillet them completely by removing the smaller bones. The reason for this was simple: the bones help the fillets retain their shape during smoking, ensuring they are better presented at the time of service. As for removing the bones? They lift easily out of the smoked fillets, hot or cold.
This factor is purely down to personal choice and the bones can of course be removed prior to smoking if you wish. It will not affect the actual cooking and smoking of the mackerel but if you do remove the bones in advance, be extra gentle and careful lifting the cooked fillets off the rack of the smoker.
Brine Recipe and Tips for Smoking Mackerel
It is essential to brine the mackerel fillets before they are smoked. Brine recipes will vary as much as cake or biscuit (cookie) recipes but the most important point is that you must not underestimate the amount of salt required. Remember above all that you are creating a brine, not seasoning a soup. The solution has to be at least as salty as the sea.
It is nigh on impossible to provide a specific recipe for this, for several reasons. Firstly, this is a rustic (old-fashioned, if you like) recipe and concept. There are no cups, ounces or grams involved. Second, the amount of solution required and the salinity will vary depending upon the quantity of mackerel, the water quality and the salt type used. Below is the best guide it is possible to give and you will need a small, uncooked and unpeeled potato:
- Enough cold water to easily cover the fillets in a large bowl or pot
- 2 teaspoons mustard seeds
- 2 teaspoons juniper berries
- 3 bay leaves
- Salt as required
- Mix well to combine. Add the salt gradually. You know you have enough salt included when the potato floats in the brine.
- Wash any remaining blood and guts from the fillets and submerge them in your prepared brine for thirty minutes.
In this instance, there were so many mackerel fillets, they had to be smoked in three batches. If you are in the same position, split them into size batches to ensure even smoking/cooking.
Tips on Buying a Smoker for Fish
Smoking fish at home? You don't need a top-of-the-range smoker. You want something easy to use, within your budget, that will above all get the job done. Below is a compact but functional appliance that you can use either indoors or outdoors and is just one example of what you can find by browsing Amazon. Please do remember, however, to follow the precise instructions relating to your smoker, be safe at all times and never take unnecessary risks.
How to Prepare Brined Mackerel Fillets for Smoking
- Follow the instructions on your smoker and have it ready for the fillets.
- Very carefully, rinse the fillets in cold water and pat them gently dry in a clean tea towel.
- Don't add wet fillets to your smoker. They may well affect the smoking of the chips and ultimately your mackerel.
- Lay the fillets on the smoker rack, being careful not to overload them and smoke them per the manufacturer's instructions.
- As a guide, these fillets took twenty minutes from being added to the smoker to being cooked to perfection.
Recipe Idea for Freshly Smoked Mackerel
It is important to serve your smoked mackerel as simply as possible. You do not need an overwhelming array of flavours to accompany it as they may actually overwhelm it. In this instance, it was served with a simple green leaf salad, baby new potatoes that were skewered and oven baked for 20 minutes or so and a simple soured cream and fresh dill dip.
© 2012 Gordon Hamilton