Atlantic Mackerel
Whole Norwegian Mackerel [Norwegian Mackerel; Saba (Japan); Scomber scombrus]

This North Atlantic mackerel is most commonly found off the European coast and in Japanese sushi bars - large quantities are exported to Japan from Norway. There are also strong populations off the U.S. Atlantic coast and it is also found in the Mediterranean, the Black Sea and off the coast of Morocco. This fish can grow to 23-1/2 inches, but the photo specimen was 15 inches long and weighed 1-1/4 pounds before being cleaned, stuffed and baked. This fish is kosher, though I'm not certain how.

More on the Mackerel Family

In California sushi bars Atlantic mackerel is often called "Saba" or "Japanese Mackerel" and served lightly pickled in a style the Japanese picked up from the Portuguese a few hundred years ago. Other mackerel, including Japanese mackerel, are also served as "Saba", depending on what's available.

Atlantic mackerel is used in many European and some American recipes for stuffing and baking. It is also often pickled or smoked commercially, and also sold canned.

Buying:   Mackerel is not often found in American fish markets, except canned, pickled or smoked. It is not a popular fish with Americans, but is extremely popular in most of the rest of the world. It can usually be found in Asian fish markets. I get it from one or another of the Philippine markets here in Los Angeles. If they don't have Atlantic mackerel, they usually have another variety that will work.

Scales:   Supposedly mackerels have enough scales to be kosher. Perhaps you have to be a hungry rabbi with sharp eyes to find them, because I never have.

Cleaning:   There is nothing unusual about cleaning a mackerel, except the flesh is extremely tender so handle gently. Break through the membrane at the top of the body cavity to scrape out the blood works just below the backbone. For stuffing, the backbone is often cut at the head and tail end and pulled out with all the ribs. This is very easy as the bones practically fall out of the flesh. Photo instructions will be found on our recipe for Stuffed Mackerel

Filleting   This is very easy, but again, the flesh is extremely tender so handle gently and do not bend it sharply. At the rib cage just cut the ribs off the backbone with your kitchen shears and pull them from the fillet - they practically fall out. There are centerline pinbones for almost full length of the fish, but they are extremely easy to find and pull out - but go deep with the points of your long nose pliers. The top end breaks off easily leaving most of the bone still in the flesh.

Yield:   A 15 inch 1 pound 1-1/2 ounce fish yielded 10-1/2 ounces of skin-on fillet (60%), an excellent yield.

Skin:   Don't even try to skin this fish. The skin may be tender, but it's all that's holding the fillet together. It has little shrink in cooking and does not have a strong or "off" flavor.

Stock:   Atlantic mackerel is considered too oily and too strong in taste to make a usable fish stock.

Health & Nutrition:   This fish is very high in Omega-3 fish oils, and it is not a mercury problem. Certain supplement peddlers shrilly declare all fish to be mercury problems despite strong evidence to the contrary. After all, how could they sell their expensive krill oil if you knew you could just go out and buy a mackerel?

Mackerel is delicate and perishable. It should be bought fresh or frozen, kept well refrigerated and cooked promptly. If mishandled it could be subject to bacterial action resulting in production of histamines. An overload of histamines causes tingling of the lips and mouth, skin rashes, vomiting and other symptoms that may last for as long as 12 hours. In most cases it is not dangerous, but in the case of persons with allergy to bee and wasp stings it can be serious. Such persons should be careful about the fish they eat and should carry anti-histamine tablets.

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