By Sophika Kostyniuk, Public Engagement Specialist
The medieval French originally called it maquerel, meaning "pimp". Apparently the French thought when mackerel spawned enthusiastically in shoals near the coast, they creatively pursued their procreation activities. Maquerel is likely also the root of today's "mac daddy". If you're curious about how incredible these saucy fish taste, try out either of chef Karen Barnaby's Italian or Japanese mackerel recipes below.
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This streamlined, fast-swimming fish is bluish-green above, silvery beneath and its back is marked with wavy, dark-blue bars. During the spring, mackerel high in omega-3 oils and measuring only 30 to 50 centimetres long, migrate close to the shore and lay between 200,000 and 400,000 eggs at a time. Each egg contains a tiny drop of oil that causes it to float. In the fall, the mackerel move out into deeper water where they swim near the surface in dense schools that are sometimes over 30 kilometres long. Flocks of seabirds, as well as whales, dolphins, sharks and schools of larger fish such as tuna and marlin, follow mackerel schools and feast on this moving ocean buffet.
Mackerel are caught using a variety of fishing gear from spring to early fall. They are marketed as fresh, frozen, smoked, salted or canned and are a SeaChoice "Best Choice" option as they are a fast-growing species and are well-managed in the U.S. and on Canada's East and West coasts.
These days, much of Canada's mackerel catch is exported to China, Russia and Eastern Europe. U.S. exports are also consistent, where "stack of macks" — aka mackerel packets — replaced packs of smokes as the black-market federal prison currency in 2004.
Want to experience this delicious and sustainable little fish? Try our recipes below. Both are from Karen Barnaby, chef, product and business development for Albion Fisheries and former executive chef at the Fish House in Stanley Park.
(Video Credit: Heidi Hudson)
(Photo Credit: Sophika Kostyniuk)
Grilled mackerel, Japanese style
- 2 mackerel filets, 6-8 ounces (170-225g) each
- 2 tbsp. (30 mL) sake
- Sea salt
- Grated daikon radish, soy sauce, lemon wedges and pickled red ginger (beni shōga)
Preheat the broiler to high and place the filets skin side up on a baking sheet. Broil eight inches away from the heat until the skin puffs and browns. Serve with the daikon, soy sauce, lemon wedges and pickled ginger
(Photo Credit: Sophika Kostyniuk)Italian-style broiled mackerel with peperonata
- 1/4 cup (60 mL) extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 1 large sweet yellow pepper, cored and cut into 3/8-inch strips lengthwise
- 1 large sweet red pepper, cored and cut into 3/8-inch strips lengthwise
- 1 large onion, halved and cut into 3/8-inch strips lengthwise
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1 large mackerel, gutted and cleaned
- 2 tbsp. (30 mL) balsamic vinegar
- 1 cup (250 mL) cherry tomatoes, cut in half
- 1 tbsp. (15 mL) coarsely chopped fresh oregano
- 1/2 cup (125 mL) coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves
- Lemon wedges for serving
Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).
Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the peppers, onion, garlic and season lightly with salt. When the mixture sizzles, turn the heat down to the lowest point, cover and cook until the peppers are very soft, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove the lid to stir occasionally. The mixture should not brown. Remove from the heat.
Place the mackerel on a large baking pan that will go under the broiler. Season the fish liberally, inside and out, with salt and pepper.
Heat the broiler on high and place the mackerel six inches or so from the heat and broil until the skin is browned and crispy, about four to five minutes. With a thin-bladed turner gently turn the fish over and broil the other side until done, another four to five minutes. Remove from the oven to a serving dish and drizzle with the balsamic vinegar.
If the pepper mixture is watery, place it over high heat, stirring until the water evaporates. If not, simply reheat it. Toss in the tomatoes, oregano and basil and adjust the seasoning. Spoon over the fish and serve hot or at room temperature, with the lemon wedges.