Foray to the fish shop: mackerel

A typical oily fish from the Mediterranean, it is also widespread in the Atlantic, unmistakable due to the bright markings along its sides

Ready for another episode of our forays to the fish shop? This time we are talking about oily fish and in particular we are discovering more about mackerel, a common species in the Mediterranean and much appreciated on our tables. As we have explained for the other fish we looked at, in knowing how to choose fresh mackerel, the most important thing is to recognize its markings and look at its colour at the fishmongers.


Sgomber sgombrus:


An oily fish belonging to the Sgombridae family, it is widespread in the Mediterranean: but also in the Black Sea and the waters of the North Atlantic through to Norway. It comes closer to shore in the spring and summer and then moves to deeper waters in the colder seasons. This is why it is so popular at fishmongers during the summer period, which causes a sharp drop in prices.


The species underwent a crisis in the 1900s in the North Atlantic area due to overfishing, some countries like Ireland and Scotland took out protective measures to save this elegant fish. Unmistakable in shape and markings: it has a long body, pointy head and large eyes, all with a beautiful silver colour that changes to blue on the back as well as black and sea green.


Fishing methods:


Typical catch for industrial fishing due to its plentiful shoals, mackerel is also fished by sports fishermen. In order to catch it, it is useful to have a boat even though in certain periods of the year is can be found on the external side of outer breakwaters. The main techniques are trawling with artificial bait, light jigging, spinning or ledger rigs with sounders. For trawling we highly recommend using spoons and feather bait.


Recognising fresh mackerel:


As we mentioned above, the markings on mackerel are very bright and easy to recognise: silver on the sides and belly with a mix of blue, green, and black on the back. One of the peculiarities of this fish, more than other species, is that the bright colour remains for a certain number of hours after death. This will be an unmistakeable sign of fresh fish. Here is an important trick: oily fish has very thin skin, which tends to get damaged if too much time passes after being fished. Therefore, be mindful of any bloody cuts or abrasions along the sides, a clear sign that the fish is not very fresh, or has been badly kept.


The ideal price for purchase is around 5 euros per kilo during the summer season. Roasted, it gives its best at the table, served with salmoriglio: a mixture of oil, lemon, oregano and a pinch of salt.


Mauro Giuffrè

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