No one expected a record haul. We hadn’t set our hearts on anything fancy. No gurnard. Not a pollack was mentioned. We weren’t even looking for enough fish to last the holiday. But we had fished these waters before and we did think we might catch enough for supper that night. After all, 6 lines. 2 hours fishing. Lyme Bay still as a millpond. What could go wrong?

Mackerel. 13 of them. That was the lot. Still were the waters of Lyme Regis today, but storms last week had churned up the seas scattering the fish far and wide. The weather being well, they were still not expected to return for a few days yet. At least that’s what the skipper told us and it sounded convincing to me. But who can really profess to know the mind of a mackerel? Fish are a mystery to me; so too the process of catching them – was that the tug of a fish on the line, or just the weight, or the current? Who’s to know.

With 7 hungry mouths to feed back at our holiday rental, we bagged a few sea bream from the fishmonger on The Cobb and practised our honest faces for when we would claim to have caught them ourselves.

Back at the house and the bream ruse working like a dream, I consoled myself with the plus side to this mini mackerel haul: I, having foolishly asserted that the last one to catch a fish had to gut them all and then predictably found myself in that unenviable position, didn’t have to contend with too much mackerel guts. Never pleasant.

But golly, any amount of gutting is worth it for twitchingly fresh mackerel. Here’s what we made as a precursor to our pan-fried bream:

Mackerel Sushi


The simplest way to enjoy mackerel is to fillet it, skin it, slice it into bite-sized slivers, dunk it in Japanese soy sauce and scoff it. Don’t get all blasé about the Chinese/Japanese soy sauce thing though, it does make a huge difference: Japanese soy sauce is much softer and sweeter than Chinese and will complement rather than overpower the sweetness of the raw fish.

I also made up some maki rolls with mackerel. Partly because saying “Mackerel Maki” is funny, but also because they make a little fish go a long way. I’m unashamedly pedantic about making sushi rice, but the precision is the key to perfectly sticky but fluffy rice (thanks to Ashburton Cookery School for the lesson):

  • 500g sushi rice
  • 650ml water
  • 4 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 3 tbsp caster sugar
  • 2 tbsp mirin
  • 2 tsp salt

Wash the rice 3 times in 3 bowls of fresh water, massaging the rice each time. You should notice the water gets less cloudy with each wash.

Put the washed rice in a pan with the 650ml water and the salt. Bring to the boil, turn down to a barely trembling simmer, clamp a lid on and leave it for exactly 13 minutes. Do NOT remove the lid.

After 13 minutes, remove from the heat and leave to stand for a further 10 minutes (again, no peaking). Meanwhile, combine the mirin, sugar and vinegar in a jug.

Next, drizzle the vinegar mixture over the rice and stir vigouroursly before tipping the rice onto a tray and spreading it out. Waft, yes waft, the rice for 5 minutes, yes really 5 minutes, to encourage it to cool quickly. No you can’t skip this bit. Yes, it does matter. It stops the rice going too soft and gooey.

Once the rice is cooled, you’re ready to roll. Often maki is a combination of fish and veg, but having experimented with avocado and cucumber in my mackerel maki, I think really fresh mackerel is best without any vegetable distractions.

The rolling bit is great fun and keeps a crowd of fellow holidaymakers entertained for hours. The instructions by Make My Sushi are worth following a few times to get the knack.

Barbequed Mackerel

bbq mackerel

So simple. So tasty. Take 1-2 whole mackerel per person. Oil the fish and the BBQ grill liberally then BBQ the fish over hot coals for 5-8 minutes. Don’t move the fish for the first few minutes or the skin will stick to the grill. There’s no point doing it under an oven grill instead of a BBQ – you don’t get the flavour or the charred skin and, anyway, it just stinks the kitchen out. Serve immediately, scattered with a few herbs if you like.

mackerel plate

Should you be blessed with more fecund seas than ours and find you have more mackerel, it also goes beautifully with beetroot, puy lentils and finely sliced red onions.

Now, about that bream we ‘caught’….