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A Kettle of Fish – Mackerel Season in full swing

We love a mackerel and none more so than the ones we are getting from our fishmonger Mark Lobb at the moment. Firm, silver, line caught beauties; perfect for our Fabulous Fish course students to practise their filleting skills.


We always have plenty of mackerel on the courses to practise knife skills as they are possible the easiest fish to fillet. Imagine a Top Cat fish – head, tail and back bone connecting the two. If you’ve done a good job of filleting your mackerel, that’s what you’ll be left with.

The number of mackerel for filleting does mean we have a lot of mackerel fillets left after the course and coming up with different ways of cooking them is a challenge we’ll gladly take on –

When I (Holly) was little, my dad would take me to Liverpool to the department store (name forgotten) with the food hall in the basement. I remember barrels of biscuits and a system of containers and strings taking your bill to the cash desk where you’d pay for your goodies. After that we headed to the indoor market with noise and laughter and people buying all manner of food – Lancashire cheeses, fresh veggies, butchers’ stalls proudly showing off their wares including trays of tripe (a big favourite with my nan) and the fishmongers with their silver trays of baked herrings in vinegar and bay. We’d then walk down with full bags to the Pier Head and take the ferry across the Mersey as we headed home.

Faced last week with the tray of mackerel fillets after the fish course, these baked herrings suddenly popped into my mind as an option for cooking. And why not – we have oily fish – mackerel instead of herrings; onions; a bay tree and a cupboard full of vinegars and spices. The traditional recipe calls for malt vinegar and pickling spices but we had half a bottle of Japanese vinegar and some Japanese sushi spices lurking so I used those instead along with a handful of fresh rather than dried bayleaves. The only cooking required is putting them in a cool oven for a while so in they went and once cooked, came out to cool and have been used all week in a variety of ways –

  • hot on rice
  • cold on sourdough for breakfast (I love fish for breakfast)
  • with avocado and tomatoes for lunch
  • mashed onto buttery toast with black pepper


Here’s what I did – do give it a try –

The fillets of 4 mackerel

1 medium red onion, peeled and very thinly sliced

4 fresh or dried bayleaves

150ml white wine vinegar and 150ml water (as I said I used Japanese vinegar so I’m sure red wine vinegar or cider vinegar would be fine as well)

2 tsp pickling spice (or Japanese sushi spice if you fancy following me off piste and have some in your cupboard)

  1. Heat the oven to 150C/Gas Mark 3 or cook them in the woodfired oven as I did – cooling oven around 160C.
  2. Put the fillets on a board cut side up.
  3. Divide the onion over the mackerel fillets and roll the fillets up. I had a few quick pickled red onions as well so put them over the the mackerel rolls in the dish.
  4. Put them in an ovenproof dish that will hold them all in a single layer quite tightly. Arrange the bay leaves between the mackerel rolls.
  5. Pour the vinegar mixture over the fish and sprinkle the spices over the top.
  6. Put the dish uncovered in the oven for about an hour (40 minutes in the woodfired oven) until the fish are firm and the skin on top is browned and a bit wrinkly.
  7. Take the dish out, allow to cool and when cool, cover with clingfilm and put in the fridge.