Spanish Mackerel: The Overlooked Grocery

Twitch, twitch, reel. Twitch, twitch, reel. Twitch, slack?

Anglers along the Gulf Coast know this scenario far too well. The Spanish Mackerel have arrived and now have stolen your favorite lure without so much as a hint of pressure. They start ravaging the schools of bait and nipping off every spare piece of monofilament attached to something flashy. Every shrimp cast out is now doomed to a quick end. It’s one of the few pains of inshore fishing, particularly near deeper areas. To most, it’s a sure sign to switch tactics and move elsewhere. But, if I have room on my stringer or in the ice chest, I make sure to make a few additions. Here’s why.

It was likely growing up as a pier fisherman before graduating to boats, wading, and fly fishing that instilled an appreciation for this hard-fighting mackerel. In our youth, speckled trout and more “choice” fish weren’t always a guarantee. But, if you kept your eyes peeled for schools of bait in turmoil, you could easily bring home a meal of Spanish. They could heal a skunked day with a great fight, and help newcomers learn how to manage drag with a strong fish.

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It wasn’t until I grew older that I realized that some people don’t consider these fish very edible and overlook their value. This is a crazy perspective to me. These fish are actually one of the healthiest inshore fish to consume. They carry higher contents of the healthy oils found in some deep water fish. The meat of these fish is just as white as any, and if prepared properly, it can surpass some presentations of more popular species.

The secret is in the preparation. First, these fish die very quickly once captured. It’s imperative to get them on ice quickly, which makes them difficult on a stringer. Second, they have a bony line that runs down the center of the fillet. Bones can be an incredible annoyance if the consumer isn’t aware. Finally, the dark bloodline near the skin can instill a bitter taste into a bite.

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These issues can easily be avoided. Our preferred method is to keep cleaning and cooking simple. We fillet the fish and keep the skin on, carefully removing the rib cage. Once placed on aluminum foil and grilled, the meat will fall right off of the center back bones. As you pull the meat away from the center, the meat will naturally pull away from the dark, unwanted muscle.

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The only way to make these fish as tasty as possible is to understand what recipes to use for them. Sure, if you remove the bones, these fish fry just as well as any. But, in the oven or on a grill, it takes the right recipes to properly bring out the unique flavor and oils in this fish. These fish also dry out a little quicker than others, making the cooking process slightly higher maintenance. As soon as you observe the meat separating along the fascial lines and from the center bones, it is likely ready to be removed from the heat.

Below are a couple of my personal favorite ways to prepare this yellow spotted predator. The next time you spot the characteristic surface explosions of these fish you may find yourself tying on heavier leader and running towards the chaos, rather than away (we always carry a good amount of long shank hooks for the occasion).

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Vinaigrette Spanish Mackerel

Prep time: 3 min / Cook time: 12-18 min / Serves: 2-3 per fillet

2 tbsp minced garlic
1 tsp thyme
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp Creole mustard
¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil
Tony Chachere’s or Cajun Seasoning
Prepare wild rice as a side

Side note: fillet Spanish as mentioned above, leaving skin and placing on aluminum foil. Skin down.

Directions: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix garlic, thyme and dash of Tony’s together. Coat fish with olive oil and mash garlic mixture on the surface of the fish, covering the topside of the fillet. Mix vinegar,  mustard, ¼ cup of olive oil, and Tony’s together in a small bowl. Place a few tbsp on each fish fillet. Cook fish for 12-18 minutes depending on the thickness of the fillet. Once fish can be separated from the center bones easily, it is ready. Cover the fish well with the remaining vinaigrette and serve over wild rice.


Italian Spanish

Prep time: 3 min / Cook time: 12-18 min / Serves: 2-3 per fillet

12 oz Italian Dressing
1/4 cup Butter
Tony Chacere’s or Cajun Seasoning

Directions: Place fillets on aluminum foil over medium heat on grill. Spread butter over the fillets and season with Tony’s. Coat entire surface of fillet with Italian dressing (I sometimes add some paprika over this). Cook until fish separates easily from the midline bones. It should pull right off the skin when fully cooked.

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