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.
How to Fillet Mackerel the Quick and Easy Way
Mackerel is one of the simplest of all fish to fillet and this article guides you logically through the quick and easy steps
Preparing to Fillet a Mackerel
Make sure that you have the right tool for the job
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
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
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
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
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