Gordon has been sea fishing and cooking since childhood. He loves coming up with tasty ways of cooking his fresh catch when he gets home.
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, 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.
Filleting Whole Mackerel for Smoking
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.
Brining the Mackerel Fillets for Smoking
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.
Need a Smoker? Keep it Small and Simple to Start
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.
Rinse and Carefully Dry the Brined Fillets
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 it 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.
How Should I Serve Smoked Mackerel?
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 twenty minutes or so and a simple soured cream and fresh dill dip.
© 2012 Gordon Hamilton
Gordon Hamilton (author) from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom on May 27, 2020:
Hi. John. It certainly sounds like you're serious about you're smoking. One thing I absolutely would not do is try to skin mackerel before it is smoked. The skin is so thin and delicate you could get in to all sorts of trouble, potentially and seriously damaging the fillets. As for the other aspects of your salmon smoking technique, I think two days of air drying would likely be overkill for these little fillets but as I'm sure you well know, developing smoking techniques is largely an experimental process and it is certainly worth giving it a go. Good luck and please let me know how you get on.
John on May 25, 2020:
I have a home made smoker made from an old fitted oven, in a shed outside. I smoke salmon and bacon and always use a temperature prob to check when the internal temp is about 55. This works well. I also dry salt it with maple syrup . Then wash and dry . With the Salmon I also air dry it with a fan for two days to form A skin before smoking. Would this work for mackerel?
Gordon Hamilton (author) from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom on May 08, 2019:
Hello Emile and thanks very much for taking the time to let me know about your mackerel smoking success. I'm glad that you managed to improvise without the juniper berries and still enjoy the end result. Best of luck with your ongoing fish smoking experiments.
Emile Terblanche on May 06, 2019:
I tried your recipe with some fresh South African mackerel. I could not find juniper berries for the brine but had the rest of the ingredients. The result was simply amazing and I agree that mackerel smoked this way can give salmon a run for its money. Thanks for sharing this wonderful recipe. It will go into my list of favourite recipes. Many thanks!
Emile, Cape Town, South Africa
Gordon Hamilton (author) from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom on September 25, 2017:
The problem with cold smoking grischa is that a much bigger appliance is required due to the smoke having to be channelled away from the heat source. I don't honestly know of any private individuals who do cold smoking at home due to these obvious practical difficulties. Good luck in your search and I hope you figure it out one way or another.
grischa on September 25, 2017:
thats a hot smoke . was wondering if there any one knows a cold smoke prep. and time ?
Gordon Hamilton (author) from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom on June 23, 2017:
These little smokers are not temperature controllable, I'm afraid. They are simply cooked at the temperatureof the smoke caused by burning the wood chips.
kenton on June 22, 2017:
what temp for smoking ?
Gordon Hamilton (author) from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom on November 24, 2016:
You're very welcome and thanks for visiting and commenting. I must admit I'm not so keen on mackerel as sushi either but love it just about any other way.
buyingseafood on November 07, 2016:
You are speaking my language, I love mackerel in all forms, (except sushi) but smoked mackerel is on another level. Thanks!
Gordon Hamilton (author) from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom on September 29, 2012:
Hi, Allie. Yes, home smoked mackerel is a very different proposition from the supermarket stuff and it is really easy. It did take some experimenting to come up with this brine mixture but I don't think I would change the mix described here any further as it works so well. Hope you get a chance to try smoking for yourself and that you're as pleased with the results as I was. Thanks for visiting.
alliemacb from Scotland on September 29, 2012:
Fabulous hub, Gordon. I love smoked mackerel but have always bought it ready prepared from the supermarket. You've made this so simple, I will have to try it. I'll bet it tastes much better when you do it yourself.
Gordon Hamilton (author) from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom on September 15, 2012:
Thanks, randomcreative. I think I'm going to have to get another mackerel fishing trip in before the pending end of the prime summer catching season to feed my guests... :)
Rose Clearfield from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on September 14, 2012:
Your step by step photos are great! I agree with Carol that I would come over for dinner to eat these fish.
Gordon Hamilton (author) from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom on September 14, 2012:
Hi, Carol, you would be very welcome. Unfortunately, the fillets were so good, they are all gone :) Hope you get a chance to try mackerel cooked this way. Thanks for stopping by.
carol stanley from Arizona on September 14, 2012:
This looks wonderful. I am coming for dinner. Thanks for sharing the smoking mackerel. Very good hub and voting up.