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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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June 02, 2009

The Simple Beauty of the Mackerel

By Mark Sisson
90 Comments

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:

Ingredients:
2 mackerel fillets, about 1/2 pound each
Salt
Pepper
Butter
Lemon

Method:
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.

Nutrition Analysis:
(for one 1/2-pound fillet)
516 calories
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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90 Comments on "The Simple Beauty of the Mackerel"

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jpippenger
7 years 3 months ago

I’m really trying to eat more fish. I force myself to eat it once a week. But, I have a hard time getting over the gag reflex.

I found a way to eat it that wasn’t too bad (taste wise), but it was deep fried, so no good as part of a healthy lifestyle.

Vin | NaturalBias.com
7 years 3 months ago

Thanks Mark! I’ve recently added more salmon and shrimp to my diet to improve variety but haven’t considered mackerel.

Are there any good places to buy it from online for those of us who aren’t so fortunate to live in California? I buy my seafood from Vital Choice, but they don’t sell mackerel.

Michael
Michael
7 years 3 months ago

Cool. Ever since seeing these little critters chilling next to the salmon and herring at the supermarket I’ve been on the verge of trying them. This article is gunna push me over that hump.

Michael
Michael
7 years 3 months ago

Hey Vin, I see fresh Mackerel available in MN. It should be almost everywhere. If you can get fresh fish somewhere there is sure to be mackerel too.

j
j
1 year 22 days ago

website? where can i buy a mackerel at zip 29303?

grok-star
7 years 3 months ago

As as side I immediately thought of the fiddle head ferns or a nice mixed greens salad.

Icarus
Icarus
7 years 3 months ago

Fatty fish are definitely the best. Atlantic mackerel and sardines are surprisingly great in cans, whereas tuna and salmon are best (yum) raw. Thanks goes out to the cuisine of Japan for introducing me to THAT concept. 🙂

erstad17
erstad17
7 years 3 months ago

Looks good. I might try a spinach salad w/slice almonds on the side. Thanks Mark.

marci
marci
7 years 3 months ago

I used to prep bluefish like this- it’s also a “stong” tasting fish (I prefer the term “gamey”) Sadly bluefish is too high in mercury to enjoy nowadays- but mackeral should do nicely. You can also wrap it in foil packs & grill it.

Andrea
7 years 3 months ago

Mackerel is probably my favorite fish ever. More than salmon!

If you’re feeling lazy (and not cheap), head to your fave sushi joint and get “saba sashimi”. Yum.

Girish Maiya
Girish Maiya
7 years 3 months ago

I had a off-topic question. Mark mentions a cast iron pan in the post above. I have and love cast iron pans, but Lodge, the manufacturer,recommends wiping them down with vegetable oil after cooking anything on them to maintain the seasoning of the pan . Is this ok given that I am trying to avoid vegetable oil as much as possible? If I don’t use vegetable oil, what should I use instead to keep the pans seasoned correctly?

Suggestions, comments would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks.
Girish

Malachi
Malachi
1 year 3 months ago
Just a quick note on cast iron. you can use just about any oil you wish (I’d avoid car oil…doesn’t taste too well!! – jk of course). But I’m serious about any oil. The only real purpose of it is to keep the pan from rusting. The “seasoning” they talk about is a micro-think layer of carbon that builds up over time, resulting in an improved finish on the bottom (i.e. sticks less). this film is pretty tough…leaving it un=oiled won’t kill it, but rust will. butter, coconut oil, lard, olive oil…i’ve used them all, and they all work. since… Read more »
cc40
cc40
7 years 3 months ago

I’d serve a pile of spinach, kale, or mustard greens, sauted with garlic, onion, S&P, and then hit it with balsamic vinegar just before leaving
the pan. That or a pile of nice cole slaw.

Note on cast iron: I use a 10″ cast iron pan religiously. We keep it lightly oiled with olive oil, only because we use it constantly. This pan is used at least 5 days a week in our home, usually twice a day. Once a month I will give it a true seasoning with lard in the oven Here are some good basics: http://www.kitchenemporium.com/info/castiron.html

Daniel Merk
7 years 3 months ago

Hey Mark! Great article about Mackerel. I’ve always loved that fish and I even like smelts. I thought for some reason the mercury was high in there so great on the edification. Question though, butter? Really? Why not olive oil? Curious? I am awaiting for my PB book so I guess I should wait, but I’ve cut dairy out of my diet well just because! Thoughts? Thanks sir!
dan

George
7 years 3 months ago

Saturated fats are superior when it comes to cooking, use olive oil cold.

joe
joe
7 years 3 months ago

The fish browns better with butter.

rob
rob
7 years 3 months ago

Bitter greens are definitely the way to go for the side. Dandelions would be great. Forage for your own — very primal (stay ways from treated lawns).

Kim
Kim
7 years 3 months ago

I love mackerel! Japanese-style broiled on a bed of salt (shioyaki) it’s my absolute favorite. And the skin is so pretty. 🙂

Greg at Live Fit
7 years 3 months ago

I’ve been trying to eat more fish lately. In fact we grilled out some steelhead trout for the first time this weekend. Tasty! Never eaten mackerel though. To be honest I don’t even know if it’s available here in Ky. Need to look though.

Althaur
Althaur
7 years 3 months ago

Some other people mentioned spinach, which was immediately came to my mind. Sauteed with some garlic and walnut oil. 🙂

thania
thania
7 years 3 months ago

I love this fish, is practicaly together with fresh anchovies, where I get the omega 3, as I cant stand salmon , neither sardines.

Here in Spain is very common to eat mackerel for dinner, the most typical way is as you make it.

But I also make mackerel tandoori, and broile it. yummy. The lime juice goes well with blue fish.

Melanie
7 years 3 months ago

I love Mackerel and Spanish Mackerel sashimi. I don’t find it to be overly “fishy”. In my opinion, high quality sashimi is fish in its purest form.

Jhound
Jhound
7 years 3 months ago

Having a dad from a coastal area I have had really no choice in my upbringing about how much fish I eat. He still talks about the mackerel he used to catch as a kid, fry up, and enjoy with friends. This is definitely something I need to work on, the community aspect, along with the ingestion of healthier protein sources.
Quality article.

prairiegirl
prairiegirl
7 years 3 months ago

Girish, I use butter for my cast iron pan. Coconut oil works well, but since I mostly cook eggs in my Lodge pan, I don’t want it to taste like coconut.

Martin
Martin
7 years 3 months ago

As a Norwegian I can attest to being raised on Mackerel. Nothing beats pulling up multiple (6 or 7) 1/2lb mackerel on a late summers day and then eating them fresh with butter, salt and pepper.

Daniel Merk
7 years 3 months ago
Mark, 🙂 I guess that is where I need to be quiet and read the book. Waiting patiently until its arrival! 🙂 Butter, at least the way I understand it from my current philosophy is that its an animal by product made form cow’s milk. My thinking is that cow’s milk is not necessary in a human’s diet therefore I stopped eating dairy. I also know its pretty high caloric and has saturated fats. I’ve been pretty overweight and stumbled across a fitness program I do 7 days a week. I follow the nutritional guide religiously yet I’ve been eating… Read more »
Michael Ezell
Michael Ezell
7 years 3 months ago

Was just on my way to the market Mark. The Mackerel above certainly looks good so I’ll give it a try tonight. The chicken’s going back in the freezer.

Greg Hinrichsen
Greg Hinrichsen
7 years 3 months ago

Go to your nearest Sushi Bar and say “Saba”…it is the best, right after salmon I mean.

Mr B
Mr B
7 years 3 months ago

I love canned mackerel and mackerel sashimi. Pretty well impossible to fresh mackerel fillets around here (West Texas).

However, if I could get a hold of some, I’d probably give it the same side-treatment I give salmon. Steam broccoli w/ butter or bacon wrapped asaragus.

Donna
Donna
7 years 3 months ago

I like sliced tomatoes and asparagus served with fish, i think that goes well together.

Grant Williams
Grant Williams
7 years 3 months ago

Another benefit of Mackerel? Now that cigarettes have been banned in their facilities, the greasy little fishes have become the gold standard for black market trade amongst Federal prisoners!

some person
some person
4 years 4 months ago

How the hell does that work? They spoil after a day or 2

harleysgirl
harleysgirl
7 years 3 months ago

Well, you may just have convinced me to try Mackerel again. Maybe cooked IS better.

My only experience with Mackerel was uncooked in the form of sushi (Saba). It didn’t sit well and kept repeating on me the rest of the day; it was like tasting cat food over and over again. Yuck!

Tyler
Tyler
7 years 3 months ago

I’ve never tried Mackerel before, but it looks really good! I would probably serve it with sauteed spinach.

rts
rts
7 years 3 months ago

I like my mackeral (or bluefish) with a dijon vinaigrette with fresh herbs (oregano, thyme, rosemary) marinade. We did this with an avocado and tomato salad and braised broccoli rabe. The creaminess of the avocado was a nice counterpoint to the assertive fish.

Stephan
7 years 3 months ago

I love mackerel. I typically bake it in parchment paper, stuffed with shallots, thyme and salt. Thanks for the recipe.

Meeses
Meeses
7 years 3 months ago

My office mates hate when I have mackerel! 🙂

Spring Girl
7 years 3 months ago

Mmmm smoked mackerel….wonderful!

rob
rob
7 years 3 months ago

I tries smoking a mackerel once ……….

I couldn’t keep it lit ba-dum-pump

Sounds good — I might inflict this on the family this week http://homecooking.about.com/od/seafoodrecipes/r/blsea96.htm (minus the sugar)

I say “inflict” because this is the kind of experimentation that the will be skeptical of.

coba
7 years 3 months ago
love the new look of the site. regarding what fat to use on your cast iron pan: butter works but due to the dairly content its not the ideal, especially if you use the pan infrequently it can gather some unwatned bacteria. lard is preferred, but this can adversely affect some delicately flavored dishes if done daily, a light olive oil or grapeseed oil is a safe bet. (light olive oil has a higher smoke point than extra virgin oil and less costly) best bet to keep the pan seasoned is to always heat to a smoke point before using… Read more »
Liana
Liana
7 years 3 months ago

Last weekend I bought some fresh sardines. I cleaned them, left the heads on and grilled them whole. They were really good, the skin peels right off, if you want you can just pull the head off easily, and munch the whole body down to the tail, you can chew the bones, they crunch really nicely.

This was my second time of gutting fish (first was a catfish on the same day) and because they were so small it was hard to get everything out. I think I ate some livers in my sardines, but it all tasted good together.

Liana
Liana
7 years 3 months ago

oh yeah, and next time I ever have a whole fish I want to try eating the head too (especially on a small fish) There’s perfectly good meat on the head that gets thrown away, and the brain should a good source of extra fat.

John
John
7 years 3 months ago

Mackerel is a common staple over here in Japan and my family eats it regularly. I think my wife grills it with some soy sauce. It’s cheap and tasty – just the bones I hate. I’m British and used to eat them frequently as a child as well. I’m glad to hear they are low in mercury.

whitecap
whitecap
7 years 3 months ago
Thanks for the push to get on with eating good healthy fish Mark – and while I’m at it thank you also for the autographed (!!) book, which arrived last week, and all the wonderful resources and the supportive community you’ve gathered around this site. I wish I could enjoy mackerel more personally, and posts like this goad me in the right direction. Like John I live in Japan, and as he says, mackerel is a cheap and healthy staple here and as I had read in a number of English sources that it’s relatively uncontaminated I cook it regularly… Read more »
whitecap
whitecap
7 years 3 months ago

Oops, spotted a typo, so in the interests of ichthyological accuracy: hokke is translated as “Arabesque Greenling”.

John
John
7 years 3 months ago

Interesting table whitecap. Looks like eel is around the same average content as mackerel. Love the stuff and cant get enough of it.

Cynthia
7 years 3 months ago

I too adore mackerel. I like it simply grilled or “salt broiled” Japanese style, and with a side of shredded daikon and a bit of lemon. Salad to accompany it would be great too.

the sterile banana
the sterile banana
7 years 3 months ago

I live in Korea and mackerel and the aforementioned pacific saury are all staples here. We just grill em on a little electric grill, with hardly any salt, and it tastes great just wrapped in some whole lettuce leaves (the really green and crinkly kind).

Candace
Candace
7 years 3 months ago
Wow I was just thinking about getting mackerel specifically the other day… hah. I’d been buying wild caught haddock because it’s local and therefore fairly cheap, but I’d rather start eating fattier fish, like those you mentioned. I bought wild caught herring recently because it’s also oily, but unfortunately it ended up being salted (I hadn’t noticed when I bought it) and after taking one nibble I couldn’t imagine ever eating it. It was like a piece of rock salt that smelled like fish. Gross. I usually eat my fish raw (so I don’t wreck the fats at all) but… Read more »
Jack
Jack
7 years 3 months ago

I grew up on the Atlantic coast of Canada and had tons of fishermen as neighbors. It’s kind of depressing that just about the only fish I ever ate growing up was fish sticks (barf). Fish just wasn’t my thing though, I can’t fault my parents because although they tried I’d rather have starved than eat it.

Now I frigging LOVE fish.

Coma
Coma
7 years 3 months ago

I grew up on the South coast of England, one of my favourite meals was freshly caught (by me) mackerel that I cleaned, gutted and barbecued on the beach, from the water to my belly in under an hour! The taste is completely different to the vacuum packed mackerel we get in the supermarkets.

Dave B
Dave B
7 years 3 months ago

Mackerel is amazing. I’ve grilled it (seasoned with salt and garlic powder) for people who don’t generally eat/like fish, and they love it.

Mackerel is also a good environmental choice. It’s a fast-growing, well-populated fish and generally a sustainable choice for eating. Too bad my local markets in upstate NY don’t stock mackerel because demand is too low. I’ll generally go to the coast (Maine, preferably), catch a bunch, and freeze some.

Michael
Michael
7 years 3 months ago

What do you think about smoked mackerel? Is smoked fish bad cause it contains more salt?

Kirst
Kirst
1 year 8 months ago

Smoke it yourself. Salt isn’t necessary if you’re smoking for flavour as long as you’re not trying to preserve the fish for longer storage. Just use as seasoning to taste. Not really tricky, (of coure there are several ways to do it) but my easy favourite is just closing the lid on the barbecue. Yum!

John Martinez
7 years 3 months ago

Mark,

Love the post on mackerel and omega-3. People also overlook the fact that the oily, wild fish like mackerel and wild salmon have much higher levels of Vitamin D.

-John

Alex
Alex
7 years 3 months ago
I grew up on the Jersey Shore, and I love seafood. But, I have never liked the strong fishy flavored fish. My perception is that most fish that humans eat are mild tasting, with the fishy ones being the exception. With respect to your saying fish should taste fishy, I think it would be far more accurate to say that fish should NOT taste fishy. The only time I ever eat mackerel is when it comes on a sashimi platter, and I eat it first, bolting it down as quickly as possible, just to get that bit of vileness out… Read more »
pjnoir
pjnoir
7 years 1 month ago

Then WHY bother??? Fish should taste like Fish. Jersey Shore Bluefish is one of the best fish to cook and enjoy its ACCURATE rich fish taste. Light flovered fish like flounder, Halibut or Cod is fine but they don’t pack the health punch like the oil rich fish do.

comley
comley
7 years 3 months ago

LOve canned Mackerel straight from the can and I sometimes cook it as well.

I have never cooked fresh mackerel mainly because I don’t trust ‘fresh’ fish from a supermarket or fishmonger.

Perhaps I will now try it because your receipe seems to be worth the effort.

Noel Victor Comley

Anne Siri
7 years 3 months ago

I got really inspired by this post, so I bought a fresh mackerel on my way home from work yesterday. Since I had all the ingredients for spinach bread, I made that as a side dish, even though I think other options mentioned here may work better.

Anyway, the mackerel was great and I have left-overs for lunch today. Mmmm..

Stephanie
Stephanie
7 years 3 months ago
I grew up eating fish a lot. I recently bought a deep pot, a small wire rack and a stainless steel dish. I put some water in the bottom of the pot, the fish in the dish and then on the rack. I steam the fish (about 10 min. per inch) and it’s always perfect, never overdone. Then I drain the water from the fish dish. The key to getting rid of the “fishy” taste/smell is to put a few slices of ginger in with the fish as it steams. Then in a separate small pot, I add soy sauce… Read more »
Mainer
Mainer
7 years 3 months ago

Wow, I’m interested. I used to catch mackerel when I was young and we would “try” and eat them or toss them to Andre the Seal when he was cruising Rockport Harbor. Always a bit too oily for me, although I love any other fish, especially raw. This has awaken my interest to dust off my rod and hit the breakwater to catch a few this summer. I would love to prepare sashimi but am not sure of a proper brine recipe to marinate it in, anyone help?

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