How to Smoke Mackerel Fillets

Updated on June 7, 2013
Gordon Hamilton profile image

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.

Prepared and brined mackerel fillets being added to the hot smoker
Prepared and brined mackerel fillets being added to the hot smoker

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 under-rated 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

The mackerel fillets have been sliced off the main body of the fish but not in any way boned, in order to help them keep their shape during smoking
The mackerel fillets have been sliced off the main body of the fish but not in any way boned, in order to help them keep their shape during 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

The mackerel fillets are soaked in the brining solution for twenty to thirty minutes
The mackerel fillets are soaked in the brining solution for twenty to thirty minutes

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 dependant 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 in to size batches to ensure even smoking/cooking.

Mackerel fillets are washed and split in to batches depending upon size
Mackerel fillets are washed and split in to batches depending upon size

Need a Smoker? Keep it Small and Simple to Start

This simple smoker has smoked many a prime whole fillet of fresh Scottish salmon
This simple smoker has smoked many a prime whole fillet of fresh Scottish salmon

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

Rinsed mackerel fillets are patted dry in a clean tea towel
Rinsed mackerel fillets are patted dry in a clean tea towel

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.

Mackerel fillets are laid carefully on rack for smoking
Mackerel fillets are laid carefully on rack for smoking
Mackerel fillets are smoked
Mackerel fillets are smoked

How Should I Serve Smoked Mackerel?

Smoked mackerel with oven baked baby potatoes, simple salad and dill soured cream
Smoked mackerel with oven baked baby potatoes, simple salad and dill soured cream

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.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Chopped dill is stirred through soured creamSimple salad ingredients in this instance are green bell pepper, yellow bell pepper, red onion and rocket (arugula)Salad is tossed with salt and pepperSkewered potatoes take about twenty minutes in a medium ovenButter is added to the cooked potatoes
Chopped dill is stirred through soured cream
Chopped dill is stirred through soured cream
Simple salad ingredients in this instance are green bell pepper, yellow bell pepper, red onion and rocket (arugula)
Simple salad ingredients in this instance are green bell pepper, yellow bell pepper, red onion and rocket (arugula)
Salad is tossed with salt and pepper
Salad is tossed with salt and pepper
Skewered potatoes take about twenty minutes in a medium oven
Skewered potatoes take about twenty minutes in a medium oven
Butter is added to the cooked potatoes
Butter is added to the cooked potatoes
4 stars from 9 ratings of this simple and easy smoked mackerel

Questions & Answers

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      • Gordon Hamilton profile imageAUTHOR

        Gordon Hamilton 

        12 months ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom

        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.

      • profile image

        grischa 

        12 months ago

        thats a hot smoke . was wondering if there any one knows a cold smoke prep. and time ?

      • Gordon Hamilton profile imageAUTHOR

        Gordon Hamilton 

        16 months ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom

        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.

      • profile image

        kenton 

        16 months ago

        what temp for smoking ?

      • Gordon Hamilton profile imageAUTHOR

        Gordon Hamilton 

        23 months ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom

        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.

      • profile image

        buyingseafood 

        23 months ago

        You are speaking my language, I love mackerel in all forms, (except sushi) but smoked mackerel is on another level. Thanks!

      • Gordon Hamilton profile imageAUTHOR

        Gordon Hamilton 

        6 years ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom

        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 profile image

        alliemacb 

        6 years ago from Scotland

        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 profile imageAUTHOR

        Gordon Hamilton 

        6 years ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom

        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... :)

      • randomcreative profile image

        Rose Clearfield 

        6 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

        Your step by step photos are great! I agree with Carol that I would come over for dinner to eat these fish.

      • Gordon Hamilton profile imageAUTHOR

        Gordon Hamilton 

        6 years ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom

        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.

      • carol7777 profile image

        carol stanley 

        6 years ago from Arizona

        This looks wonderful. I am coming for dinner. Thanks for sharing the smoking mackerel. Very good hub and voting up.

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