Everything You Need to Know About … Smoked Mackerel

A true beauty of the ocean that’s sustainable, affordable and hugely versatile, the biggest question about mackerel is why it isn’t more popular. Just the ticket for breakfast, lunch or dinner when smoked and its shelf life extended, this richly flavoured fish belongs at the heart of your most delicious dishes.


Cured and smoked mackerel fillets not only preserve the fish but give a boost to the flavour with a wonderful smokiness. Once caught, fresh mackerel should be eaten as soon as possible; the smoking process means you have more time to enjoy this thoroughly ravishing fish.

Mackerel is the name for more than 30 species of pelagic or midwater-dwelling fish that belong to the Scombridae family. Fast swimming and abundant in cold and temperate seas around the world, they are known for their slim shape, numerous finlets and oily meat.

They range in size from 200g-800g and have a bullet-shaped body with iridescent, silvery-blue skin and attractive, dark wavy stripes, giving them the uncontested position as one of the most attractive fish in the ocean. Designed for speed and distance, these carnivorous fish feed on plankton, crustaceans, molluscs, fish eggs and other small fish.

Mackerel is a comparatively sustainable fish and the Marine Conservation Society recommend buying line-caught, UK-landed mackerel that has been smoked where possible.


smoked mackerel fillets with brown bread and lemon wedges

With a rich flavour and creamy flesh, mackerel is often compared to herring, but it’s actually closer to tuna.

Delia Smith’s Complete Cooking Course (BBC Books, 1989) says: “Ever since herring fishing has had to be controlled, smoked mackerel has really taken off commercially. At home I like to make it into one of my favourite smoked fish pâtés.”

Rather bizarrely, the term mackerel actually means “marked” or “spotted” and originates from the c.1300 Old French word “maquerel”, which translates as “pimp, procurer, broker, agent, intermediary”.


You can buy smoked mackerel fillets and peppered smoked mackerel fillets. The fillet is cut from the pectoral fin to the backbone.


Packed with protein, heart-healthy and brain-boosting omega-3 fatty acids, as well as minerals and vitamins, smoked mackerel is a terrific fish to include in your diet.

Omega-3 is a good fat found in oily fish and plays an essential role in keeping the heart healthy while aiding brain function and development.

Per 100g raw mackerel
Energy 233kcal
Fat 17.9g (of which saturated fat 3.85g)
Protein 18g
Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, niacin, phosphorus, potassium and selenium.

smoked and peppered mackerel fillets with brown bread


Mackerel is superb when smoked. Readily available, it offers great value yet is all too often underrated. Delicious and nutritious, smoked mackerel comes ready to eat, with only the minimum of cooking required if desired.

It’s a common misconception that smoked mackerel is raw, when actually it has been cooked by the smoke and given an extra special flavour. The smoking preserves the natural omega-3 oils in the fish, leaving the flesh beautifully moist as well as super healthy.

Amazingly versatile all-rounders, you can bake, grill, microwave, shallow fry or steam smoked mackerel fillets. They are great with salads and make a fantastic and easy pâté.

To prepare Delia Smith’s favourite smoked mackerel pâté recipe:

“Skin the mackerel, then carefully remove all the fish from the bones. Flake the fish, and place it in a liquidiser, then add cottage cheese, soured cream and lemon juice. Blend until completely smooth, stirring halfway through if you need to.

“Spoon the mixture into a bowl, taste and season with salt and freshly milled black pepper, a pinch of nutmeg, plus a spot more lemon juice if you think it needs it. Pack into individual ramekin dishes, cover and chill for several hours before serving.

“To serve, sprinkle on a touch of cayenne pepper, garnish with watercress and lemon wedges and serve with freshly made wholemeal toast, and slices of pickled dill cucumber.”


Mackerel carries a stronger taste than some other fish, which is why it is particularly tasty when balanced with clean, soft flavours such as beetroot or cucumber


With the right cooking and flavour pairings, smoked mackerel fillet is a real treat. Mackerel carries a stronger taste than some other fish which is why it is particularly tasty when balanced with clean, soft flavours such as beetroot or cucumber. Equally well matched are citrus ingredients including lemons and limes, which accentuate the freshness of the fish while cutting through the oiliness.

For something special, match smoked mackerel with piquant flavours such as chilli, horseradish and capers. Steer clear of buttery or heavy sauces that can overpower the fish.

In Fish and Shellfish (Random House, 2014), Rick Stein suggests pairing smoked mackerel with hot bird’s eye chillies and green mango, served with a sweet and sour dressing:

“Skin smoked mackerel fillets and break the meat into small flakes. Pour 2cm oil into a pan and heat to 190C. Sprinkle the fish into the oil and fry for one minute until crispy. It will all stick together at this point but don’t worry. Lift out onto a tray lined with lots of kitchen paper and leave to cool, then break up into small pieces again.

“Peel green mango and carrot and shred into thin strips three to four mm wide. Put mango, carrot, shallots, chilli, peanuts and the fried fish pieces into a large bowl and toss together. Mix sugar with fish sauce and lime juice, add to the salad with Thai sweet basil and toss together. Serve straight away.”


For a sauce to accompany smoked mackerel, try gooseberry, sorrel, rhubarb, cranberry, redcurrant or mustard


Want to cook a sauce to accompany smoked mackerel? Make sure it’s sharp to complement the rich flavour of the fish. Try gooseberry, sorrel, rhubarb, cranberry, redcurrant or mustard. Alternatively, marinate the fish in citrus juices.

People often wonder if you can freeze smoked mackerel. The answer is: absolutely. Freeze on the day of delivery and eat within two months, defrosting in the fridge overnight.


There are smoked mackerel recipes for every meal of the day, from breakfast-style kedgeree to lunchtime fish cakes and filling pasta, risotto and rice dishes for an easy supper at home.

Smoked mackerel recipes to try:


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