Four Ways of Preparing Smoked Mackerel

On the second weekend of red snapper season, I had one request on our first grocery trip of the year. I wanted to keep a few king mackerel. It’s definitely an odd desire for the cooler, especially considering the frenzy over red snapper. Typically, we release every king and keep the more sought-after white meat of other species. But, this year is different. After living away from home, in the landlocked hills of Pennsylvania, I’m on a mission to take advantage of the fresh seafood I was deprived of for 2 years. And this year, I have a new grill-smoker combo.

Living far from home, where “fresh frozen” is considered fresh, you come to realize how lucky we are on the coast to have access to freshly caught seafood, and the fish I took for granted have almost been rediscovered as a delicacy. I’ve personally never cared for the taste of king mackerel, but I’ve always wanted to try smoking a few fillets. So, for one week, my kitchen became the experimenting grounds for this toothy species. Fortunately, it was a success, and it may have been the best week of seafood we have had in our household this year.

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Let’s start with the smoking. This process varies depending on who you ask. I started by brining fillets, skinned, for an hour in airtight plastic bags in the refrigerator.

Brine/Smoking Recipe:

1 and 1/3 brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
2 tsp roasted garlic powder
2 tsp onion powder
1/3 cup salt
1 ½ cup of water (bottled water)

Directions: Mix all ingredients well and place the fillets, cut into chunks and skinned, in mixture, making sure all are covered well. I’ve read some people brine up to 24 hours, but an hour seemed sufficient in my case. Most sources cite shorter times than thicker meats, like pork or beef, varying from 15 minutes to 1 hour.

While fish is in brine, get the smoker going. Remove fillets, pat dry with paper towel and place in the smoker. I kept the temperature steady around 180 degrees and smoked the mackerel for around 4 ½ hours, when the internal temperature reached 150 degrees on my digital thermometer.

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The smoked king mackerel came out really well, and I had about 3 pounds of fillets to work with. Here are the recipes I recommend for this fish:

Smoked King Mackerel Dip (great with buttery crackers)

¼ cup of cream cheese
2 tsp Worcestershire
A few dashes of Tabasco
4-6 oz diced smoked mackerel
1/3 cup sour cream
1 tbsp chopped onion
Cajun Seasoning and pepper to taste

Directions: Place all ingredients in a food processor and mix until blended well. Thin out with more sour cream or olive oil as needed.

Smoked Mackerel Salad with Homemade Lemon Vinagrette

4 oz shredded smoked fillets
1 fresh head of Romaine or green leaf lettuce, chopped
1 lemon squeezed
1 tsp lemon zest
2 Roma tomatoes slice thin
1 cucumber peeled and diced
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup shredded parmesan
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp minced garlic
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
3-4 tbsp Goat cheese

Directions: Chop lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumber for salad. Feel free to add any other vegetables you prefer (bell pepper goes well in this recipe). Shred fillet of king mackerel and crumble cheese. Place in salad. Mix olive oil, ½ squeezed lemon, zest, parmesan, vinegar, sugar, garlic, mustard and salt and pepper to taste. Make sure to taste the dressing and adjust with lemon, sugar, or salt as needed to balance. Serve on salad.

Pan-fried Smoked Mackerel Cakes

8-10 oz of smoked king mackerel
¾ cup Panko bread crumbs
2 tbsp Mayonnaise
2 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup of trinity blend (diced celery, onion, garlic, bell pepper)
2 tbsp diced green onion
2 tbsp butter
Light Olive Oil for frying

Directions: Sauté trinity blend in butter until softened. Remove from heat and blend in mayo, bread crumbs, eggs, green onion, and mackerel. Form into small cakes. Heat light olive oil in frying pan over medium to high heat. Place cakes into the olive oil and fry until golden on both sides, usually 3-4 minutes on each side, covered. Serve with remolaude lightly dressed on top.

Creamy Smoked Mackerel Pasta

8 oz smoked fish
8 oz angel hair pasta
4 tbsp butter
2 tbsp minced garlic
1/2 cup of yellow onion, diced
1/2 cup of halved cherry tomatoes
½ cup heavy cream
1/3 cup cooking white wine
1 tbsp paprika
2 tsp Cajun seasoning (I use Tony’s)
1/3 cup of chopped parsley
1 lemon, juiced and zest

Directions: Place water in pot and cook pasta as instructed on the package. Preheat separate skillet. Melt 2 tbsp butter (or use light olive oil) in the skillet and add onions. Cook for 2-3 minutes until softened and add garlic until aromatic. Next, pour in cream, seasoning, rest of butter, lemon juice, and white wine. Simmer and reduce. After reduced down about 1/3 or to desired consistency, then add the cooked pasta, shredded smoked fish, lemon zest, tomatoes, and parsley. Mix well and add the water from the drained pasta if needed to thin out the sauce.

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