You typically find two types of mackerel in the fish market: Spanish, usually caught off the Florida coast, and Atlantic, harvested from North Atlantic waters. Both weigh between 2 and 3 pounds and have oily, dark flesh with a bold fish flavor. Mackerel does great filleted and fried or butterflied and grilled, but for a show-stopping presentation that preserves the true nature of the fish -- bold and beautiful -- purchase it whole, so you can stuff its belly with herbs and spices, and roast it whole in the oven.
Things You'll Need
- Paper towels
- Cutting board
- Chefs knife
- Whole butter (optional)
- Seasonings to taste
- Aromatic vegetables and whole spices (optional)
- Kitchen twine
- Wire rack or aluminum foil
- Oven pan
Heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. If using a convection oven, turn the fan on. Rinse the inside and outside of the mackerel with cool running water and pat it dry with paper towels. Place the mackerel on a cutting board.
Cut the head from the mackerel, severing it perpendicular to the body, using a chefs knife, if it won’t fit on the oven pan diagonally. Mackerels measure about 2 feet long, so you need a broiler pan about the same size.
Cut 1-inch-long, slightly slanting slices through the skin of the mackerel, from gills to tail and perpendicular with the body, using a chef's knife. Space the slices about 1 1/2 to 2 inches apart. Slicing the skin helps keep whole fish from curling in the oven.
Coat the mackerel, inside and out, liberally with oil or a mixture of oil and whole butter. Use a flavored oil with a high smoke point, such as regular olive or grapeseed. Avoid using butter as the only fat, since it has a low smoke point and burns quickly.
Season the mackerel to taste inside and out, using a coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper as a base. Use only dried spices when seasoning the outside of the mackerel, since fresh herbs don’t hold up well to roasting heat, unless you add them in the last minute or two of cooking.
Stuff the cavity of the mackerel with the aromatics of choice, if desired. Aromatics are vegetables, fruits or whole spices used only for the aromas they impart during cooking. Aromatics that pair well with mackerel include star anise, sliced fennel, fennel fronds and dill sprigs, to name a few. Don’t worry about chopping the aromatics, just spread them out evenly, since you’ll remove them before serving.
Tie the mackerel crosswise at 1-inch intervals snugly with kitchen twine. Tying helps the mackerel hold a uniform shape during baking so it cooks evenly and makes a neat presentation.
Place a wire rack on the oven pan. Mackerel contains a lot of oil, so you have to elevate it to prevent it from frying in its own juices on one side when baking. If you don’t have a rack to place the mackerel on, roll up two 2-foot-long pieces of foil into a tube-like shape. Wrap each piece of foil around your finger so it forms a spiral shape, and place them in opposing corners of the oven pan. Prop the head end on one piece of foil and the tail end on the other. Place the pan in the oven’s middle position.
Bake the mackerel for 15 minutes and check the tail. If the tail is already brown, or looks like it’s cooking too fast, cover it loosely with foil.
Bake the mackerel another 15 minutes and remove it from the oven. Cut the kitchen twine with a knife or scissors, and scrape the aromatics from the cavity with a knife or spoon.
Sprinkle freshly chopped herbs on the mackerel, if desired, while it’s still hot from the oven. Let the mackerel rest about five minutes before serving.