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Quick and Easy Mackerel Recipes: From Sea, to Shore, to Plate

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.

This pan fried mackerel fillet and scrambled eggs on toast is just one of the recipes you will find further down this page

This pan fried mackerel fillet and scrambled eggs on toast is just one of the recipes you will find further down this page

Mackerel is a fish that is common to seas and oceans around the world, in the form of several different sub-species. As line caught mackerel is presently deemed to be a sustainable fish in UK waters, this makes it an attractive option for consumers from an environmental perspective. The fact that it's a fairly inexpensive fish to buy makes it equally appealing from an economic viewpoint.

Add to this the fact that it's incredibly quick and easy to cook, it's absolutely delicious and it's packed full of vitamins and minerals of many different types (including heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids) and it's amazing that it's not more widely consumed.

One of the drawbacks of mackerel, however, (if there can indeed be such a thing) is that it spoils incredibly quickly, even by the standards of other fish. This means that to enjoy mackerel at its best, you really have to make a special effort to get it as fresh as possible.

I thought I would show on this page, therefore, a real time look at how I went out on the boat and caught some mackerel, got them home, cleaned them and cooked them and had them on the plate in the shortest reasonable timescale possible. If mackerel fishing is something you do or something you are interested in trying, you may want to give some of these ideas a go.

Sunday, June 3rd, 2012, 7:45am - Arriving at Loch Etive

Loch Etive is a sea loch in the West of Scotland with an incredible variety of marine life, making it a sea fisherman's paradise

Loch Etive is a sea loch in the West of Scotland with an incredible variety of marine life, making it a sea fisherman's paradise

Leaving the house at 5am on a Sunday morning to go fishing may not be everyone's idea of fun, but whatever else it is, it's certainly a great way of avoiding traffic and crowds. From leaving our final pick up point in Lesmahagow, Lanarkshire, we reached Loch Etive in a couple of hours on what were virtually empty roads.

Loch Etive is one of my favourite fishing destinations. It is a beautiful, unspoiled place at any time of the day or week. At shy of eight o'clock on a Sunday morning, you could be forgiven for thinking that you had stepped in to a different world. When the above picture was taken, three of us were about to board the yellow and white Taynuilt Fishing Club boat for what we hoped would be a fruitful day of fishing in breathtaking surroundings.

Catching Mackerel on a Rod and Line

These two mackerel were taken from the sea and humanely dispatched mere seconds before this picture was taken

These two mackerel were taken from the sea and humanely dispatched mere seconds before this picture was taken

Mackerel fishing is often scorned by sea anglers and referred to as "Mackerel bashing." This is mostly because of the fact that mackerel—where you happen to find a shoal—are incredibly easy to catch, with bare hooks often enough to tempt them to bite. They are therefore not seen as affording quality sport, even though—pound for pound—they are very tough fighting fish and will certainly give you some rod bending action. It is also partly due to the unfortunate and wholly inaccurate perception that mackerel is not a quality eating fish. Many sea fishermen will deliberately target mackerel only at the beginning of a trip, simply to use them as bait for bigger things throughout the remainder of the day.

When I go fishing, I'm not remotely interested in catching anything that I can't later take ashore and eat. This means that I will frequently catch mackerel in the hunt for other species. Although on this trip I also caught whiting and gurnard, only the mackerel were of keepable size and all remaining fish were returned alive to the loch, including the excess mackerel which I didn't need.

Mackerel Can Also Be Caught Aplenty From Shore

Sunday, June 3rd, 2012, Late Evening - Home Again

Four of the six mackerel I brought home ready to be prepared for cooking

Four of the six mackerel I brought home ready to be prepared for cooking

When you get home from a day fishing trip like this one—especially when you've also spent several hours traveling—you are usually pretty tired. Unfortunately, it's likely you're still going to have a few tasks to perform. You need to hose down your rods and reels to get rid of the corrosive salt from the sea; any fish you have brought home may well still have to be cleaned; you will want a shower or a bath - and you are very possibly also going to be starving hungry!

The last thing I could really face was spending an hour or more preparing, cooking and eating a meal. I wanted a quick, easy meal from one of my mackerel before I headed to bed. I had brought home six mackerel, two of which were carefully wrapped whole in plastic and frozen as a starter for bait on the next trip. That left me four to clean that night.

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Mackerel are very much scavengers in the sea. I decided therefore to scavenge the kitchen cupboards and fridge to see what I was going to prepare. I quickly came up with the idea of spaghetti with green pesto sauce, topped by two pan fried mackerel fillets and freshly chopped basil. Strange combination...or is it?

Quick and Easy Way of Filleting Mackerel

I decided to fillet all of these mackerel. When you have filleted them, you will be able to feel how firm and fresh the flesh is, compared to supermarket or fishmonger bought mackerel fillets. You could instead, of course, simply gut the fish and bake, poach or pan fry them whole.

  1. Lay the mackerel on its side on a chopping board.
  2. Take a proper filleting knife (the flexibility of the blade is essential) and make an incision behind the pectoral fin, all the way through to the bone, angled slightly towards the head.
  3. Turn the knife (still embedded in the fish) that it is facing towards the tail of the mackerel and by employing a backwards and forwards motion, slice all the way along the bone and remove fillet number one.
  4. You should then turn the fish over and do exactly the same again on the second side.
  5. The larger bones over what was the stomach cavity will often lift easily free. You should also peel away the dark skin covering this part of the fillet.
  6. You may find it easier to swap knives at this point and use one with a short, sturdy blade but this is not essential.
  7. There will be a ridge of bone running down the centre of each fillet. This should be cut out in a "V" shape, taking care not to cut through the skin.
  8. Wash the fillets carefully in a bowl of cold water. Don't rinse them under running water as this can damage the incredibly delicate flesh. Pat them carefully dry with kitchen paper.
  9. Any fillets which you are not using immediately should be stored in a plastic container in the fridge. They will keep pristine for up to 24 hours but remember to use them as soon as possible to enjoy them at their best.
Spaghetti is cooked as normal before being stirred with green pesto sauce and topped with quickly fried mackerel fillets

Spaghetti is cooked as normal before being stirred with green pesto sauce and topped with quickly fried mackerel fillets

Pan Fried Mackerel Fillets on Spaghetti and Green Pesto Sauce

The Mediterranean diet—and perhaps specifically the Italian diet—is one of the healthiest in the world. Pasta, sun ripened fresh vegetables, olive oil and perhaps the clincher: fresh seafood, simply cooked. This apparently unorthodox dish contains most of those elements and, although made up on the spur of the moment, it was absolutely delicious.

Cook Time

Prep timeCook timeReady inYields

5 min

10 min

15 min

One satisfying serving

Ingredients

  • 4oz dried spaghetti
  • 2 mackerel loin fillets
  • 2 tbsp plain/all purpose flour
  • Sea salt and black pepper
  • 2 tsp green pesto sauce
  • Fresh basil leaves to garnish, roughly torn or chopped
  • Olive oil for frying

Directions

  1. Bring a large pot of well salted water to a rolling boil and add the spaghetti. It should be simmered for ten minutes.
  2. Scatter the flour on a plate and season with salt and pepper. Pat the mackerel fillets in the flour on their skin sides only and gently shake off any excess.
  3. Drizzle some olive oil in a frying pan and bring up to a medium to high heat. Lay the mackerel fillets in the pan on their skin sides. Season the flesh sides lightly with salt and pepper.
  4. After two or three minutes, you will see that the fillets are almost cooked through. At this point, reduce the heat to low and turn the fillets to complete cooking on their flesh sides for one minute only.
  5. Drain the spaghetti through a colander and return it to the empty pot. Stir in the green pesto sauce and pour on to a plate.
  6. Lay the mackerel fillets on the spaghetti, skin sides up, and scatter over the basil.
  7. Note that the mackerel skin is very thin and should ideally be eaten for the greatest level of nutritional value from this dish. If you particularly don't want to eat the skin, however, you will find that the flouring process has caused it to nicely crisp and it will very easily peel away in one whole piece.

Monday, June 4th, 2012 - Lunch and Dinner Times

If you are like me, you could eat fresh fish for just about every meal. I don't as a rule but with these fresh mackerel fillets available, lunch and dinner on this day both consisted of mackerel. The remaining fillets were gifted to grateful and appreciative neighbours.

Oatmeal gives mackerel fillets a deliciously crisp coating

Oatmeal gives mackerel fillets a deliciously crisp coating

Mackerel Fillets Fried in Oatmeal With Baby Potatoes and Peas

Oatmeal adds a surprisingly tasty, additional crunch to mackerel fillets. Although normally applied to herring, the concept of frying mackerel in oatmeal works equally well. It is only the requirement to boil the potatoes which means this recipe takes a little bit longer to prepare.

Cook Time

Prep time: 10 min

Cook time: 30 min

Ready in: 40 min

Yields: One serving

Ingredients

  • New potatoes (quantity as desired)
  • 2 mackerel fillets
  • 3 tbsp oatmeal, medium or coarse
  • 2 tbsp frozen peas
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • Butter
  • 5 or 6 fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped

Directions

  1. Wash the potatoes and add them to a pot of salted water. Bring the water to a boil and simmer for about twenty-five minutes until they are soft.
  2. About ten minutes before the potatoes are due to be ready, pour a little vegetable oil in to a frying pan and put it on a medium heat.
  3. Scatter the oatmeal on a dinner plate and pat the mackerel fillets in it on both sides to fully and evenly coat.
  4. Fry the mackerel fillets for two to three minutes each side, depending upon their size, until done.
  5. The peas should be added to boiling water for three minutes, or according to the instructions on the packet.
  6. Drain the potatoes and put them back in the pot with the butter and chopped mint. Gently swirl to combine.
  7. Plate the mackerel fillets with the potatoes and peas alongside and serve.
Simple pan fried mackerel fillet and scrambled eggs are included on wheat, spelt and rye toast and served with a simple salad

Simple pan fried mackerel fillet and scrambled eggs are included on wheat, spelt and rye toast and served with a simple salad

Mackerel Fillet and Scrambled Egg on Wheat, Spelt and Rye Toast

This is another recipe which may raise a few eyebrows—fried mackerel and scrambled egg? Remember, though, one of the more popular additions to scrambled egg is smoked salmon, so fish and scrambled egg is a well established combination. This recipe came about when I was unexpectedly and gratefully gifted with six fresh farm eggs on the way home from the fishing trip. I bought the bread the following day at the supermarket and if you are wondering what spelt is, it is an ancient type of wheat which has been cultivated as food for several thousand years but unfortunately seems to be little known today. This was the best bread I have tasted in a long time and fresh farm eggs certainly take scrambled eggs to a new level.

Cook Time

Prep time: 10 mins

Cook time: 5 mins

Ready in: 15 mins

Yields: One serving

Ingredients

  • 1 mackerel loin fillet
  • 2 fresh farm eggs
  • 1 slice of wheat, spelt and rye bread
  • 2 or 3 lettuce leaves
  • 1 small tomato
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • ½ oz butter
  • ½ tsp freshly chopped chives
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

  1. It's a good idea here to begin by preparing and plating your salad. Once those eggs hit the pan, they require your full attention at all times. Simply wash and shred the lettuce and lay it on one half of a square plate. Season. Chop the tomato in to six segments and lay them on top of the lettuce.
  2. The mackerel fillet is prepared exactly the same way as in the spaghetti recipe above, with one minor exception. To ensure the eggs have your full attention, when the mackerel fillet is ready to be turned, switch the heat off completely. Turn the fillet and allow it to complete cooking more slowly in the residual heat only. It will be fine for the two or three minutes required to scramble the eggs.
  3. The eggs can be broken in to a small pot or saucepan while the mackerel is frying on its skin side. Add the butter to the pan but don't season at this stage.
  4. Put your bread on to toast just before you turn the mackerel.
  5. Put the eggs over a medium heat when you've turned the mackerel and begin scrambling them with a wooden spoon or plastic spatula. Don't use a metal cooking implement. You need to work them constantly, all the way through cooking.
  6. As the eggs start to cook, remove them from the heat but continue working them with the spoon. Put them on and off the heat two or three times in this way, to prevent them over-cooking.
  7. When the eggs are done, remove from the heat for the final time and season with salt, pepper and the chopped chives.
  8. Lay the toast on the plate beside the salad and carefully spoon on the scrambled eggs. Lay the mackerel fillet on top, skin side up. Once again, the skin can easily be peeled free if you wish.

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