potted smoked mackerel

When life hands you lemons, you make lemonade (or limoncello). When life hands you mackerel?

Many of my fellow fisherman would say “use them as bait and try to catch something better,” but I happen to be a fan of mackerel. Treated right and cooked fresh they can yield some pretty delicious treats.

I headed out fishing last week in search of tuna. The boat was in place by 5 a.m., lines in the water not much later. While we waited for the leviathans to arrive, we jigged for mackerel.


Mackerel fishing is (I think) like no other fishing. You use these diabolical little rigs called sabiki jigs, which have six small hooks strung along a line about two feet long. The hooks are set just far enough apart that they can reach each other and create a wonderful mess if you don’t pay attention. To fish with them, you let the line down to the bottom, and then jig the rod as you reel the lure slowly back to the surface. At some point, if the mackerel are in the area, they’ll notice something shiny moving up and down and all lunge at the jig at once. It’s not uncommon to pull your rod up and have a fish on every hook, which is super satisfying.

And that’s mostly what happened last week. For about six hours, we steadily caught mackerel. Most of it was chopped up fresh and thrown back as chum for tuna. But a few of us actually like eating them, and we lobbied to keep some of the bigger ones.


When the day was over, there was no sign of tuna. But us mackerel lovers still had supper (yay for eating low on the food chain). I took home about two dozen good-sized ones (generally, a “good-sized” mackerel is about the length of my forearm). I cooked a few fresh on the grill. The rest I smoked.

I love eating smoked fish, but I’d never tried to make it myself. After a quick read up in the River Cottage Fish book, I was ready to go. I filled a small smoker box with mesquite chips (though tin foil would have worked ok in a pinch), rubbed the fish inside and out with salt, and smoked the fish whole for about an hour. In the future, I’ll likely filet the fish before I smoke it to speed up the process, though the whole fish certainly look more impressive.

salted fish, ready for smoking

The whole smoked fish served as dinner one night, but what to do with the substantial amount of leftovers? Again, River Cottage to the rescue (if you fish a lot I highly recommend this book), with a recipe for potted mackerel. This is great spread on toast, or impressive as a canapé, topped with a dollop of sour cream/ greek yogurt. This makes quite a bit (6 cups). I recommend putting in half-pint jars and sharing with friends.

Potted mackerel
(Adapted from River Cottage)

10 largish mackerel, smoked
4 sticks of butter, melted
5 cloves garlic
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon smoked pepper (or regular)
juice of two lemons
2 Tablespoons finely chopped parsley

Remove the flesh from the fish, discarding the skin and as many of the bones as possible (a few will inevitably make it into the final product). Set aside.

In a medium-sized saucepan melt the butter, skimming off the foam and solids. (A more in-depth tutorial on clarifying butter is here.) Add bay leaf and garlic to the butter and let simmer on low for 10 minutes. Then discard bay leaves and all but two cloves of garlic. Mince those two cloves of garlic and add to the mackerel. Also add pepper, lemon and parsley and stir well. Mix in all but one cup of the butter. Portion into clean jars and top with remaining butter so that no meat is exposed to air. Sealed jars will last a week in the fridge. Makes six cups.

serving suggestion: spread on toast with a bit of greek yogurt and a salad (bacon optional)



2 thoughts on “potted smoked mackerel

  1. Pingback: So long, summer « The Musing Bouche

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