I’d like to direct your attention to an incredibly underappreciated member of the marine kingdom – the mackerel. Its many detractors deride it for its “fishiness,” which is ridiculous. Aren’t we eating fish here? That’s like people who complain about free-range steaks tasting too “beefy.” We’ve grown accustomed to flavorless protein, to dry chicken breasts that fall apart in our mouths and to feedlot lamb and beef you can’t even tell apart. Fish is supposed to taste like fish, and the fattier varieties – the ones with all the healthy omega 3 fats, like salmon, sardines, and mackerel – have the strongest flavors.
Most of the Atlantic mackerel we get in California comes wild from Norway, and you’ll occasionally find some imported from Japanese waters. On the east coast and in Britain, Atlantic mackerel is a pretty common fish as well. These are all safe to eat, with low mercury levels, high fat, and a relatively small size (around 1 lb per fish). Fill up on them! Some mackerel, however, should be avoided – or at least limited. The highly carnivorous King mackerel, which can grow to over 20 pounds, is foremost on the list of fish to avoid; its mercury levels can approach that of swordfish or tuna, and regular consumption is definitely not advised. Spanish mackerel is smaller, but certain varieties, like the ones caught off the Gulf of Mexico, are disproportionately rich in mercury toxicity. They’re generally safe to eat on occasion, but try to stick to the smaller ones if possible.
When you go to buy mackerel, get the freshest fish you can find. If possible, get it whole from an actual fish market, rather than filleted in a package; mackerel spoils pretty quickly, and whole fish tend to be fresher. The fish guy will usually fillet it for you, but you can do it yourself, too. Just make sure to leave on the skin, which isn’t scaly at all and actually crisps up nicely in a pan. Extra points if you eat the organs!
Anyway, the “fishiness” is completely exaggerated. Mackerel does have a strong flavor, but that lends itself to simple preparation. It can stand on its own. You could dress up your mackerel with an Indian curry or some chipotle spices, but my favorite way to prepare mackerel is simply with salt, pepper, butter, and a squeeze or two of lemon. This way, the mackerel in all its buttery, salty glory is the star of the show, and the tang of the lemon pleasantly cuts into the creaminess of the flesh.
Simple Sauteed Mackerel
This is about as easy as it gets. It takes less than 10 minutes to prep and cook (and possibly even eat, if you’re hungry enough), and mackerel is often the cheapest fresh wild fish you can find, so there are really no excuses not to try it. You’ll need:
2 mackerel fillets, about 1/2 pound each
Apply liberal amounts of salt and pepper to the fleshy side of your fillets.
At the same time, heat a pan (cast iron, skillet, whatever) over medium high heat. Rub that salt and pepper into the flesh, then slather it in butter – use enough to completely coat the fillet, around 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons. Place the fillets, buttered side down, skin side up, into the pan.
Cook for 3 minutes and flip over; the meat should be crusty and golden. Continue cooking skin side down for 3 additional minutes.
Remove from heat and serve with a slice of lemon and some sort of green vegetable.
(for one 1/2-pound fillet)
Fat: 37 grams
Carbs: 0 grams
Protein: 42 grams
Not bad, eh?
What would you serve as the side? Hit me up with a comment!
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