Warning to the weak of stomach: This post contains some pretty gory bits. Read on at your own risk.
Somewhere around 25 years ago, I was out having a few pints with “the lads”. We were socialising in Goggins of Monkstown, our then favoured haunt. The conversation was wide-ranging and often great ideas would be tabled for decision or debate. One such notion was to hire a boat from Bulloch Harbour so we could catch a few mackerel. Everybody agreed that this was a worthy venture and a couple of nights later, three of us took the trip to Dalkey, negotiated with Joe and took out a small open boat, complete with Seagull motor and hand lines.
Fishing off Dalkey involved put-putting on the Seagull engine south between Dalkey Island and the Mugglins (a rocky outcrop) and letting the current drift the boat north into Scotsman’s Bay, where one would fire up the little Seagull, motor south again and repeat the process. During this drifting, we fished the hand lines with six feathers. I let my line out and jiggled the feathers. Now, it’s the nature of mackerel fishing that things tend to be a feast or a famine. I jiggled away and suddenly; BANG, BANG, BANG! My line was alive with wriggling fish. I hauled the six gleaming beauties into the boat just as my two friends did likewise. There was much whooping and laughing as we hauled in ‘six pack’ after ‘six pack’. It being seen as failure to not land a half a dozen at a time.
As the sun went down, we put-putted our way back to harbour, loaded the large plastic sacks of mackerel into the car and returned to the pub like conquering heroes. 180 fish! Word of our great haul got around and we generously dispensed a few mackerel to almost everybody in the bar. This took care of the haul and I went home that night with two fish and fried them for my supper. Boy, were they sweet.
A week later, boosted by our success, five of us repeated the trip and the result. Over 200 fish were landed. Like Cesar returning to Rome, we made our triumphant trip to Goggins. We brought plastic bags and offered more free fish to the locals. We were met with nothing but polite refusals and assurance that last week’s were lovely but, “No thanks”. Crisis ensued.
Our solution was to go to my house and set up a small production line. We gutted, filleted, bagged and froze the fish. My share ended up being somewhere around 80 mackerel. I put them in our freezer. The sight of so many was pretty off-putting. To my eternal shame, I could not bring myself to eat any and, six months later, I consigned the lot to the bin.
I haven’t caught a mackerel since. So, when my good friend Pat and his son, Danny returned from a trip and left us four gleaming, fresh mackerel, I was reminded of my own ineptitude and prompted to cook Dry Brined Hot Smoked Mackerel for our tea.
All one needs for dry brining is some nice fresh fish, salt and sugar, (mixed about ten parts to one).
Warning: Now comes the gory bits. Fish that doesn’t come from the fishmonger needs to be cleaned. The fishmonger ones do too but, you don’t get to see the process. First, insert the pointy end of a sharp knife into the blunt end (you know where I mean) of the fish. Cut towards the head until you reach the pectoral fins, just behind the head.
Next, remove the head, like in the photo.
Ease your thumb under the guts and lift out the innards.
You will be left with a pretty clean fish. The last messy job is to run a blade down the inside of the gut cavity to open the artery that runs along the spine. Press the contents of this out using your thumb. Then rinse the fish in cold water.
Mix together a couple of handfuls of coarse salt and about one tenth of sugar. Rub this all over the fish, inside and out.
Cover and leave in the fridge for an hour. Just before putting it in the fridge, take a couple of ‘arty’ photos.
Take the fish out of the fridge and rise them. Pat dry and leave back in the fridge for an hour at least, up to 24 hours at most. Bear in mind that mackerel is at its tastiest the nearer it is to having been swimming in the sea.
Pop the fish into the smoker (available online for small money) and smoke them for 20 minutes.
Serve them with some of the Wife’s home-made brown bread and a nice salad.
I suppose it’s too late to apologise for the blood splattered photos above. But, if you want to have truly fresh and delicious hot smoked mackerel, you will just have to do the dirty work too. Don’t be afraid of it. Just remember to not catch too many and to enjoy them really fresh.
Final note: I have prepared brine smoked mackerel before. See the post here. They were really good. But these were really, really great.