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This firm-fleshed, oily fish is ideal for roasting or barbecuing. Discover when mackerel is in season, how to buy the best and our top preparation tips.
Mackerel is a firm-fleshed, torpedo-shaped sea fish. Whole mackerel weigh in around 10-12oz (275g-350g) so can be served as a meal for one in its un-filleted form. The fish has a distinctive iridescent skin with silver streaks and is well-known for falling into the 'oily' category, therefore is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids. Mackerel has a creamy and slightly salty meat that is often smoked or peppered and sold ready prepared. It is a popular BBQ or grilling fish as it holds its form well and its fillets are robust and meaty. It was recently awarded a sustainability certification, meaning it is also an ethical choice.
UK shores yield plenty of mackerel, with hauls being particularly heavy in Scotland. The fish starts arriving at UK shores in April/May and then leave in September/October, so it will be at its freshest and best during this summer period. Imported mackerel from elsewhere in Europe is available all year round.
As with all fish, a bright eye and shiny skin is an indication of its freshness. A mackerel should be firm to the touch and a really fresh one won't droop if held horizontally by the head.
Mackerel can be cooked whole, but make sure it's cleaned thoroughly and scaled by your fishmonger. To avoid bones, cook as fillets by removing two pieces from either side of the spine using a sharp, pointed filleting knife.
Watch our video on how to fillet a mackerel:
The flesh of a mackerel deteriorates quickly, so it should be eaten within 24 hours of being caught. However, it is a good fish for curing, smoking and salting, which dramatically prolongs its shelf life.
Mackerel is a sturdy fish that can withstand being barbecued or grilled on a high heat. It's also good soused or roasted whole, and can handle being teamed with very strong flavours- fragrant Asian flavours such as chilli, garlic, lemongrass and coriander work well. Smoked mackerel is also popular, and sold vacuum-packed with different flavours, such as peppered or chilli. In this form, mackerel can be flaked over salads, added to fishcakes or generally used like other canned, prepared fish such as sardines.
Try sardine, anchovy or tuna.