Mackerel: What kind of fish is it? And how to cook it?

From frying, grilling to cooking it in the oven

Mackerel is a versatile fish with a distinct taste. It’s often eaten as steamed or smoked fish. But you can do much more with it.

Mackerel is very tasty and healthy. Read more about this tasty and versatile white fish in this article.

Gerookte makreel
Smoked mackerel

Table of contents

Chapter 1

What kind of fish is mackerel?

Mackerel is related to tuna, but smaller and has a shorter life cycle than tuna. It is also called ‘Atlantic mackerel’ or ‘ordinary mackerel’.

Mackerel has unique, dark zebra-like stripes, a teal colored back, a silvery white belly and a deeply cut caudal fin. It‘s 30-50 cm long, can reach a weight of 3,400 grams and can live up to 20 years. Both males and females reach sexual maturity at three years of age when they reach 30 cm.


Mackerel spawns in the central North Sea and along the southern coast of Ireland. The female lays up to 450,000 eggs per season. The eggs float in the water and the larvae grow within a year into fish with a length of more than 20 cm. The spawning period lasts from May to June.

In the summer months, mackerel swim in large schools close to the water surface. With their mouths open, they swim through the clouds of plankton and filter the copepods, amphipods, fish larvae and the like from the water with their gill sieve. They then come close to the coast.

Origin of mackerel

Mackerel is found in the waters of the Pacific, Atlantic and Mediterranean. Despite the fact that it’s a deep-sea fish, some species live near bays.

Mackerel fillet

One of the known areas where this fish occurs is the coast of Great Britain, particularly in Scotland. In the British area, schools of mackerel arrive in April to May and remain there until September to October. So “English” fresh mackerel is available exclusively in the summer season.

It’s also good fishing for mackerel off the coast of Japan, Australia and America. There are about fifty species of mackerel worldwide. In our regions, these are only the normal (Atlantic) mackerel.

Chapter 2

How does mackerel taste?

The taste is similar to that of herring, but more refined. The meat is firm and fatty, but juicy and tender. It has a greasy, smoky smell. Smoked mackerel tastes a bit salty.

Chapter 3

Is this fish healthy?

Mackerel is one of the fattiest white fish species and is rich in essential fats, vitamins and minerals. The omega 3 and omega 6 fats are present in large quantities in this fish. These essential fatty acids reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Mackerel is also full of vitamins A, B6, B12, C, D, E and K, which contribute to the proper functioning of systems and organs.

Minerals found in mackerel include calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium and selenium. These minerals are important for the heart muscle, bones, teeth, nerve tissue, muscles and a good metabolism.

Mackerel also contains proteins that ensure good muscle function and adequate metabolic processes.

Chapter 4

Food & wine

Mackerel is a fairly oily fish, so it combines well with a strong wine. Think of wines that are also consistent in structure such as Chenin Blanc, Muscadet, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Verdejo and Albarino.

A Riesling, Pinot Gris, Vinho Verde or Sherry (Fino or Manzanilla) also goes very well with smoked mackerel.

Chapter 5

How to cook mackerel?

Mackerel spoils quickly. That’s why you should cook the fish on the same day you buy it. If you have to keep fresh fish for a while, you can put it in the bottom of the fridge for a day or two, where it’s a lot cooler.

You can store raw mackerel in the freezer for up to three months at a temperature of -18°C. First wrap the fish in cling film and cover it with lots of ice cubes.

If smoked mackerel is no longer good, the fish will have a sour smell. The fish is then grayish discolored and sticky. Don’t eat smoked fish that doesn’t smell good or looks different. Play it safe and throw it away.

You can cook mackerel in countless ways, but smoked mackerel is the best known. You can also grill fresh mackerel very well on the barbecue or fry it. Always make sure to pat the fish dry with some kitchen paper first, so that you get that nice crispy crust.

200-250 grams of fish per person is sufficient.

Cleaning mackerel

  • Carefully cut the fish open at the belly with a sharp knife. Don’t cut too deeply into the fish so as not to touch the organs.
  • Remove the organs from the belly with two or three fingers.
  • Also remove the blood vein that is against the spine.
  • Rinse the belly under running water.
  • Remove the scales with a scraper. You can also ask the fishmonger to clean the fish for you.

Filleting mackerel

  • Cut along the spine from the tail to the front.
  • Separate the two sides.
  • Pull off the spine and remove the bones with a knife.
  • Slide the tip of the knife or your fingers over it to feel if there are more bones.
  • Cut the mackerel in half again, along the line you see running down the middle.
  • Feel again if there are no more bones in it or remove them if necessary.

Frying it in a pan

If you want to fry mackerel, you do so at a high temperature.

  1. Pat the fish dry with kitchen paper.
  2. Make some slits in the skin with a knife to make the fish crispier.
  3. Heat some olive oil in a frying pan.
  4. Carefully place the fish skin-side down in the pan.
  5. Fry the fish on one side for 3 to 6 minutes.
  6. Turn the fish over and cook the other side for 3 to 6 minutes. The time depends on how thick the fish is.
  7. The fish is ready when the meat is white and the outside is crispy.

Grilling on the barbecue

Make sure the barbecue is hot.

  1. Make a marinade of minced garlic, lemon zest and a generous drizzle of olive oil.
  2. Cut the mackerel down to the bone several times on both sides.
  3. Toss the mackerel in a baking dish with the marinade.
  4. Roast the mackerel on the barbecue for 8 to 10 minutes.

Grilling in the oven

If you want to grill mackerel, do this at a medium temperature.

  1. Place the fish in a marinade of orange juice, balsamic vinegar, mustard and honey, salt and pepper and olive oil for 20 minutes.
  2. Remove the fish from the marinade and pat it dry with some kitchen paper.
  3. Make a few small incisions in the skin of each mackerel fillet.
  4. Place the sliced mackerel fillets, skin side up, on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Make sure that the fillets are not on top of each other, so that they all cook at the same time.
  5. Set the oven to the grill position.
  6. Place the baking tray in the oven and grill the mackerel fillets for 6 minutes.

Cooking in the oven

If you want to cook mackerel in the oven, do this at a medium temperature.

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
  2. Drizzle some oil in a baking dish.
  3. Make sure the bottom is well covered, otherwise the fish will stick.
  4. Place some sprigs of dill, chili, garlic and some coarse sea salt in the belly of the fish.
  5. Close and place in the baking dish.
  6. Pour olive oil over the fish so that it is well coated.
  7. Place the fish in the preheated oven and bake for 12 minutes.