Hot smoked mackerel and memories of Mayo.

Smoked mackerel

Back when we were kids (there we six of us), we often holidayed in the village of Louisburgh, Co. Mayo. We all have happy memories of those summers, of playing on the deserted beach at Kiladoon, of visits to the metropolis of Westport (pop 5,500) and happy days spent spinning for mackerel from the pier at Lettereeragh, where the Bundoragha River enters the grandly named Killary Fjord. Our earliest trips to the pier bore no fruit (or mackerel for that matter). My father took heart from a local who told him “Hold your time. There are days when the water does be stiff with them. Sure, you could walk on their backs from here to Lenane.”, a distance of about 10 kilometres.

We returned on a number of occasions with limited success. I learned that fishing was a pleasure of itself and catching fish was just a very rare bonus. That was until the day we watched the water in the fjord seem to boil as a huge shoal of mackerel chased the sprat into the shallower waters. Slaughter. All we had to do was get a spinner into the water and we were guaranteed a catch.

My younger brother David and I with our proud haul.

My younger brother David and I with our proud haul. Picture taken by Dad, well over 40 years ago.

Back at our cottage, we would gut and prepare the mackerel for frying. Probably the most delicious way to eat this fish when fresh from the sea. On one of our trips, Dad had tried to smoke some fillets. The smoker refused to work and I remember Dad’s frustration on the day. I have always wanted to try smoking my own and today, I got the chance. There was some nice fresh mackerel in the fishmongers so, I prepared Brined Smoked Mackerel. for the Wife and myself.

Simple ingredients for a delicious dish.

Simple ingredients for a delicious dish.

My brine consisted of:

  • 2 tablespoons of salt
  • 2 tablespoons of brown sugar
  • Juice of a lemon
  • 1 handful of juniper berries
  • 1 handful of black peppercorns
  • 2 bay leaves

As you can see, I used 3 fish. The first thing to do was to make up the brine. There is nothing to this except adding the ingredients to about a litre of water and stirring to dissolve. Do this well in advance to allow the flavours to mix well.

Then, I filleted the fish. There are dozens of great videos on method over on YouTube, if you are interested in the process.

A totally gratuitous half filleted mackerel shot. Sorry about that.

A totally gratuitous half filleted mackerel shot. Sorry about that.

Add the fillets to the brine and leave them there for about half an hour.Smoked mackerel (1 of 1)

Put the fillets on a rack in a fan oven, heat off, fan on, for an hour. Pat them dry and place them in the smoker. Smoked mackerel (1 of 1)-2

Smoke for 15 minutes and allow to cool. Serve the delicious fillets with a nice big healthy salad, home-made tartar sauce and some lovely childhood holiday memories.

Delicious by any standards. All the tastier for the fond memories.

Delicious by any standards. All the tastier for the fond memories.

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Latest comments
  • I’ll admit your food memory kinda beats my childhood memory of egg and tomato sandwiches and Coke on the beach at Silver Strand in Galway! Mind you, they were the nicest sandwiches I have ever eaten…..

    • Those sandwiches (if they were like ours) would have had a smattering of sand too. Great memories.

  • PS: The Coke was always warm…….:)

  • Wonderful writing Conor. Brings back similar memories for me, seeing an old man ‘whip’ the mackerel out of the water with his hands and expertly landing them on the pier in Cobh many years ago.
    Keep up the good work.

    • Thanks Brian, The whole process of cooking, writing and remembering the detail of all those years ago is great fun. I must go mackerel fishing again this summer.

  • Great recipe and I like the tip about drying off the mackerel in the fan oven with the heat off. I think the best mackerel I ever ate was caught fresh off the Kerry coast and barbecued on the beach. A much under-rated fish.

    • Yes indeed Linda. I have had them as fresh as that. Little to beat it this side of the pearly gates.

  • Magic. I effing love home smoked anything and I love childhood fishing memories and photos. Very nice my friend.

    • The funniest comment award goes to…..
      Thank you.

  • They look delicious – you’ve got me thinking about making smoked mackerel paté now 🙂

    • I am hoping to do one pretty soon myself. Like the Old Sea Dog that I am, I have more mackerel tales to tell.

  • I too have many happy memories fishing, mainly the Severn or local lakes being a Midlander back then. Not so great for eating though of course… Great looking dish as always Conor – love the fish/spices photo.

    • Thanks Phil. You are very kind. The board is a present from a friend of mine who carried it all the way from Australia. It provides a beautiful backdrop.

  • Delicious! So cool that you did this. I’m a huge fan of mackerel, truly one of my favourite fish. Do you fish at all?

    • Not in years Nick. I used to do a lot of it but life has got in the way. I really should get in to Aldi and buy a €10 spinning set and bag me some mackerel later in the summer.

  • What is a “fan oven”?
    Also, the photo of the uncooked Mackerel with the other ingredients is a beauty.

    • You Americans! it’s an electric oven with a setting for ‘fan’. There is a fan at the back of the oven. When it’s on, it has the same effect as turning up the heat. Generally by about 20%. With the heat off, it is the same as leaving the fish in a draughty place, where cats and dogs can’t get at it. Thanks for the very kind photo comment.

  • We used to catch them with a bent pin from a skiff out behind Dalkey Island and sell them .. “Macker-del! .. Fresh Macker-del! …”

    • I have a great story yet to tell of our catching them off Bulloch Harbour. For sure, not the most difficult fish to catch, if they are around, oh man of steel.

  • Those mackerel look so fresh! The filleting looks like a job for Super ‘Monger 😀

    • I have filleted more of them than I care to admit Rosemary. They are glorious when fresh. Less than worthwhile when not.

  • Wow. This post is stunning. I absolutely love fish in all of its forms. I wish I had a smoker. Thanks for sharing that beautiful picture of you and your bro as kids. So cute. I love the photo with the fish carcasses in the background. Mackerel are so beautiful. I like them in their smoked form the most.

    • Amanda, thank you for such a comprehensively positive comment. You make me smile.

  • Hair! And modern ‘curtains’ too. In fact you may have been a trend setter. I may have to follow suit – I had a pony tail in my youth, but not that young. I went mackerel fishing in a boat with my father and cousin off the coast of Wales somewhere. Bloody nightmare – i puked solidly the whole way out and the whole way back. We got some fish too not that i could eat it. (Was it mackerel? I mean it was ‘deep sea’ fishing)… can’t remember too long ago – about the age you are in that pic but it would have been very late Seventies….

    • I certainly set the trend in letting the hair fall out before they invented Regain. Your trip sounds like a nightmare. I have only been sea sick once (I have pretty good sea legs now). I would not like to repeat it.

      • What do you mean: ‘a ponytail in my youth’? Hmm: I’m kinda older than Conor and a ponytail is the most mod way [yep, look at the media!] to hold mine back – lovely at night on the pillow sans . . . 😀 !

  • A great photo of you and your brother. 🙂

  • Lovely post, Conor! Great story with a great photo — what a nice lad you were 😉
    Great ‘new’ photos, too.
    I love smoked mackerel. I prepare it ‘quick & dirty’, no brining, and filleting afterwards (when the fish is cooked and you can scoop the meat with a spoon) and it already comes out nice. I’m curious about your brining before smoking technique (which I already saw in your post about hot smoked salmon) and I will have to experiment.
    P.S. Seeing a fish post reminds me that I’ve been wondering if you’ve ever gotten around to trying to sous-vide some fish with the ziploc bags I sent?

    • Guilty of neglecting the challenge / opportunity. I promise to get to it and to do my best to emulate your very high standard.

      • The hardest part is the ‘water displacement method’ to seal the baggie with as little air as possible (especially if you want to get a good photo of that as well). Getting a nice result on a piece of fish should then be almost guaranteed.

  • Great story, Conor. Fishing as a kid–that’s why God invented Velveeta and white bread, right? Although I see you used a spinner–even better. I love that you’re willing to filet the fish raw. It’s such an essential skill. We get wonderful mackerel–now you’ve made me want to try smoking it. Thanks. Ken

    • Thanks Ken,
      Stefan makes a good point when he suggests leaving the filleting until the fish is smoked. Still, the hunter in me wants to do the filleting first.

  • Conor,
    WOW. You and the other five kiddos, searching for fresh fish, the fruit of the sea and cooking it up. What a great memory of family and delectable sustenance! When I was a child, I walked the trek to the grocery store with my babysitting money (that’s the food highlight!). You ate organically before it was in vogue. I am so curious about how to prepare the perfect potato, fresh tartar sauce and a “smoking” unit for the cooking of the beautiful fish. The recipe for the mackerel itself is beautiful.
    I love smoked mackerel on bagels with cream cheese, chives, tomatoes – and all of the usual offenders – during a lazy weekend brunch! This recipe and story was generous and seriously invoked hunger.
    Ravenous now. Your fault.
    Well done…

    • Thanks Shanna, I had never thought about the organic side of things. There are rafts of recipes for tartare sauce out there. It’s pretty simple. The smoker cost me somewhere around $50 and was worth every cent of it. Next time, I will try simply salting the mackerel and then smoking it. I think it could be epic.

      • I read that salting mackerel and then grilling it on an outdoor grill/smoker is a common technique in preparing Japanese fish. So, you are organic and international in your cuisine! 🙂

  • Looking at the beaut photo of you and your bro with all those fish – luvverly: a keeper obviously!!!!!

    • Thanks Eha, as long as the mackerel is really fresh, it is absolutely lovely.

  • Memories make food that much sweeter, don’t they? I loved every bit of this post, such a fantastic picture of you and your brother… and the mackerel? Yum! Glad that you got to revisit the smoking process, despite your dad’s previous frustrations 🙂 I am sure he’d be mighty proud of that plate of deliciousness… love homemade tartare!

    • Thanks Laura, I was thinking of Dad when I was doing the smoking and also when I ate the meal. He would have loved it!

  • Lovely. I particularly like the ingredient shot, and of course you and your brother.

    • Thanks, I can take credit for only one of those, though I starred in the other.

  • As always, It’s wonderful to read of your delicious memories from when you were a young lad! I still remember the tales of your Spanish adventures as a youth with the boys! Fishing & holidays go hand in hand. The beautiful mackerel & brine, look like a sure fire way to honour that memory!

    • Thanks Alice, I enjoyed it all (as you can tell).

  • Another great post and meal. Love that old photo.

    • Thanks Mimi, That one seems to be the star of the show, as is only right.

  • what a great meal! I really like mackerel, but unfortunately it is a rare find in stores here 🙁

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