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“Some people say mackerel isn’t a sexy fish, but I disagree. The colours you see on them are amazing: blue, green and black vertical stripes, as well as silver. But most importantly, mackerel has a really lovely flavour,” says Max, who manages the Furness Fish Markets stall at Borough Market. “They are an oily fish, related to the tuna.”
Something interesting Max reveals is that the mackerel season is changing. “Traditionally Atlantic mackerel schools arrived on our coasts in the early spring, stayed through the summer and then left for warmer spawning waters in early autumn, generally around September. “As climate change is beginning to affect the waters off our coast, this is changing,” he continues. “In recent years, they have been coming back for a short spell in late autumn, sometimes into early winter, before heading off to spawn. It means we now technically have two seasons a year.”
Mackerel are fished in many parts of the UK, from Cornwall up to Scotland, and are one of the country’s most sustainable fish species – mackerel stock is in a healthy state.
Those Max sells are mainly Atlantic mackerel harvested from the North Sea, off the Shetland Islands. The fish, beautifully laid out on his stall, have usually been caught only two days before. This compares well to most supermarkets, where fish can be weeks old, having been caught by deep sea trawlers and frozen.
“I go directly to local boats when I can, but the fishing quota systems means that most mackerel have to be sold through wholesale markets, so the authorities can track what is being caught,” Max explains. “The key point is that I buy from day boats. These are boats that go out and come back the same day. They take their fish straight to market, where it is kept in ice; two days later, we are selling them here. They have not been frozen.”
Max has some key advice for buying fish: try and make it the last thing you buy before going home. If you buy early to make sure you get what you want, ask the fishmonger to keep it in ice for you, then get it home and into the fridge as soon as you can. “Keeping fish in the boot of the car on a hot day while taking in the sights – which is not unheard of – won’t do it any good,” he says. If you freeze your mackerel when you get home, don’t try to speed up the defrosting process by running it under water. Take it out the night before and let it defrost naturally overnight in the fridge.
“Some are put off because mackerel can be a bit of a bony fish, but you can ask your fishmonger to fillet it and remove the pin bones. If you have never had fresh mackerel, you’ll discover a wonderful fish with a really lovely taste,” Max enthuses. “It’s healthy, great in terms of sustainability as we have a real abundance of mackerel and real value for money. We should be eating more of it.”
This article was originally published in Great British Food.
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