How to Fillet Mackerel the Quick and Easy Way

by Gordon_Hamilton

Mackerel is one of the simplest of all fish to fillet and this article guides you logically through the quick and easy steps

Mackerel must be one of the most under-rated eating fish in any sea or ocean. They are often used by pleasure fishermen only as bait for bigger fish, they are often bought from supermarkets and fishmongers only by those same fishermen in need of starting bait for their trip and they are rarely featured on the menu of any restaurant. So what's not to love? They are sustainable, they are delicious, they are incredibly versatile in the number of ways in which they can be cooked and their high omega-3 fatty acid content means that they are beneficial for your health. As this page will show, they are also an incredibly easy fish to fillet and the perfect starting point for anyone looking to learn the often tricky fish filleting procedure from scratch.

Preparing to Fillet a Mackerel

Make sure that you have the right tool for the job
Whole mackerel ready to be filleted
Whole mackerel ready to be filleted

Whatever job you are doing in life, getting it done properly often begins with making sure you have the right tools to hand. Filleting fish of any type, not just mackerel, very much falls in to that category. If you don't have a proper filleting knife, you will not be able to carry out the procedure correctly. The main reason for this is that a filleting knife is not only very sharp (as all chef's knives should be!) it also has a flexible blade, allowing you the necessary maneuverability as you go to work on the fish.

If you are serious about filleting your own fish - either in a domestic kitchen or on a fishing trip where looking to present bait properly - the importance of a proper filleting knife can not be overstated. It is also a good idea to get a hold of a large plastic chopping board as wooden ones are not only extremely difficult to clean, they can continue to harbour germs however well they are scrubbed. Whether it be the main Amazon site, Amazon UK or your country's regional store, all are great places to pick up these items and many more at bargain basement prices, as the examples below indicate.

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Removing the First Fillet from the Mackerel

Note that two fillets are taken from each fish
First fillet is removed from mackerel and laid aside
First fillet is removed from mackerel and laid aside

When you are preparing to fillet a mackerel, do not gut (eviscerate) it first. There are some who do but the chances are you will find this procedure much easier if the fish is whole, exactly as it came out of the sea. Note also that mackerel are not fish which need to be scaled.

Lay the mackerel on one side on your chopping board. Make sure the head is at your weakest side (ie, to the left if you're right handed). Take your fillet knife and cut in to the mackerel just behind the pectoral fin (the one just behind its head), your knife angled slightly towards the head. Cut through until you feel the resistance of the backbone.

Carefully - holding the head of the mackerel - twist the knife to face the tail and use a backwards and forwards motion to slice all the way along the bone, keeping the knife flat, until you reach the tail. The first fillet can then be lifted off and set to one side.

Removing the Second Fillet from a Mackerel

Simply do the same again as you did before
Second fillet is removed from the mackerel
Second fillet is removed from the mackerel

There is little more to be said about removing the mackerel's second fillet. It is simply a case of turning the fish over and doing the same again by cutting in behind the other pectoral fin, slicing along the backbone and removing the fillet. The remaining carcass of the mackerel can then be discarded.

Point to Note

While in many instances, a fish carcass like this could and should be used for making fish stock, mackerel and other strong tasting, oily fish do not make good stock.

Deboning the Mackerel Fillets

Non-essential but more than worth the little time and effort
Bones are removed from the first mackerel fillet
Bones are removed from the first mackerel fillet

When you have taken the mackerel fillets from the main skeleton of the fish, you could of course simply cook them as they are, without further attention. This is not recommended, however, as there will remain a fair few bones which are ridiculously easy to remove.

You will see, running down the centre of each fillet, a ridge of bone. The way to remove this is to cut it out in a v-shape. Simply cut in from either side, angled towards the centre but careful not to go all the way through and pierce the skin. The bone ridge will then lift free.

The main bones that cover what was the stomach cavity of the mackerel will sometimes come free at this point but often many will remain. You will see them very clearly and you should pull them out in the direction they are lying, either towards or away from the centre of the fillet.

Bones are removed from the second mackerel fillet
Bones are removed from the second mackerel fillet

It remains now only to clean the fillets up a bit before cooking them by your chosen method. You may be tempted to do this under running cold water but that is not always a great idea. The pressure of the water alone can often damage the delicate flesh of the fillets. Instead, fill a large bowl with cold water, submerge the fillets in it one at a time and gently rub them clean with the ball of your thumb. Be especially sure to remove the dark skin that lines that part of the fillet that once encased the stomach cavity.

Two boneless mackerel fillets ready to be cooked to delicious perfection by your chosen method
Two boneless mackerel fillets ready to be cooked to delicious perfection by your chosen method
Updated: 08/17/2012, Gordon_Hamilton
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cazort on 02/25/2013

I totally agree with you that mackerel is under-rated. I love mackerel; it's one of my favorite types of fish. Buying mackerel (and other fish) whole can help you save money and ensure that the fish is fresher too.

I also really agree with you that having the proper knife is of key importance.

Gordon_Hamilton on 09/02/2012

Hi, Tolovaj. I hope you get the chance to fillet some mackerel soon and enjoy many different ways of cooking it as fresh as it can be obtined. Thanks for visiting and commenting.

Tolovaj on 09/02/2012

You are right, mackerel is underrated fish. I have eaten it many times and it can be delicious with right herbs and of course in good company. Filleting it is new idea to me. It sure looks easy and is worth trying. Thank you!

Gordon_Hamilton on 08/23/2012

Thank you very much, Katie. I'm glad you like it and hope you find the information useful.

katiem2 on 08/23/2012

What a great tutorial. Love the illustrated images, it really gets the point across.

Gordon_Hamilton on 08/21/2012

You're welcome, Dustytoes and thanks for visiting again. I share your love of fish and hope to write many more similar pages in future.

dustytoes on 08/20/2012

Thanks for the answer! I love fish, and fresh fish is the best. I hope you will write more fishy pages.

Gordon_Hamilton on 08/17/2012

Hi, Dustytoes and thank you. Mackerel is a particularly easy fish to fillet due to its bone structure. Other fish of this shape and size can be filleted in the same way so far as removing the fillets from the main body but may require a little extra work at the next stage. Bigger fish (even of this shape) are not so easy to fillet in precisely this way and it is often better to fillet them starting from the top of the fish and working along either side. Good luck with your filleting.

dustytoes on 08/17/2012

I can see why this article received the Editor's Choice Award. It's a great resource for fileting mackeral - excellent photos too. I am wondering if most fish this size would be prepared the same way?

Gordon_Hamilton on 08/15/2012

Thanks very much, chefkeem. Hope the information is useful to many people and helps them to enjoy one of my favourite eating fish at its very best!

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