Many people buy smoked mackerel for convenience and the intensity of its flavour. It is ideal for flaking into salads or for making pâté.
To check if mackerel is cooked properly, make a cut in the thickest part of the fish – the flesh should be moist and firm but slightly opaque.
Arguably the simplest way to cook mackerel is quickly pan-frying the fillets; just remember to remove the pin bones first. Barbecuing is fantastic way to cook mackerel fillets – the high heat gets the skin super-crispy and the flesh is cooked in no time. Mackerel is an excellent fish to confit, marinate, pickle or cure, as its strong flavour holds its own against a variety of ingredients.
Mackerel carries a stronger taste than some other fish which is why it is often balanced with clean, soft flavours like beetroot or cucumber. Equally well matched are citrusy ingredients like lemons and limes as in Luke Holder’s Mackerel with lemon sherbet dressing and sharp fruits like rhubarb and gooseberries – these flavours help to accentuate the freshness of the fish and cut through the oiliness.
Mackerel is also well suited to piquant flavours such as chilli, horseradish and capers, as exemplified by Geoffrey Smeddle in his Seared mackerel with chilli. For a more avant garde set of flavour combinations, look at James Sommerin’s dish which pairs mackerel with white chocolate, beetroot and horseradish – strange but brilliant. Avoid buttery or heavy sauces as these tend to overpower the fish.