Grilled Mackerel
Grilled Mackerel
4 whole small mackerel (scaled and gutted)
4 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher saltVietnamese Cucumber Salad
1 cucumber, peeled seeded and sliced into quarter rounds about ¼-inch thick
1 small red onion (or 2 large shallots), peeled and sliced thin, lengthwise
1 cup lime juice
¼ cup sugar
2 tablespoons sambal oelek (chili garlic sauce)
2 tablespoons salt
1 teaspoon nuoc cham (fish sauce)
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons chopped mint


Grilled Mackerel

Prepare a moderately hot charcoal fire.

1. Brush the fish lightly with good olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt. Grill them on each side for about 4–5 minutes. When properly cooked, the flesh comes easily off the bone.
Serve alongside the Vietnamese cucumber salad.Vietnamese Cucumber Salad1. Combine all of the ingredients in a medium-size bowl and toss gently. Let sit at room temperature for at least 20 minutes before serving.

Recipe courtesy of Chef and Owner Steve Johnson, Rendezvous, 2011.

In staying true to New England waters, Steve Johnson of Rendezvous Restaurant in Central Square, Cambridge, courageously puts fish on his menu that  - oh no!  - has bones.  Mackerel.  Grilled to a charry crispness, dripping with olive oil, delicate filets lifting off of eight inches of spiny vertebrae, mackerel.  

In Italy, Spain, Portugal, Sweden, Denmark, just about anywhere but here, a serving of fish means a pile of bones on the plate.  Residents of these countries make beloved meals with sardines, anchovies, pike, mackerel and herring.   

If we only learn to embrace the beauty of a fish spine, we, too, might upload healthy doses of phosphatidylserine, a phospholipid and part of the cell membrane, responsible for everything from making golfers tee-off better to improved memory to helping children with ADHA.  Mackerel has tons of it.  In a list of phosphatidylserine sources, cow’s brain is number one at 713 per 100 grams, but given the risk of bovine spongiform encephalopathy who wants to eat that?  Mackerel is number two at 480 per 100 grams.  Chicken breast is 85.  A potato is 1.  

To eat mackerel is also promising great doses of big, rich omega 3 fatty acids.  Boston Mackerel - also known as Atlantic Mackerel -  is almost twice as high in omega 3 fatty acids as salmon and it’s very low in mercury.   It’s the most common of the 10 species of mackerel so there’s plenty of it.  

In the world of gastronomy, before a chef opens their restaurant doors, they are required to state party affiliations:   On the seafood section of your menu will you be saving the fish or the fishermen?  Or are you an uncommitted Independent only interested in keeping mild, white, boneless filets on the menu because Americans expect fish that doesn’t smell, taste, or look like fish?  

Johnson walks the Sustainability Walk without making a big fuss about it.  He recycled a Burger King, for heaven’s sake - for five years now he’s been serving local foods prepared with North African and Southern French inspiration from a kitchen in Central Square that once assembled Big Macs.

The Rendezvous menu is faithful mostly to the New England coastline.  By offering fish caught in local waters, Rendezvous keeps their seafood choices strictly seasonal without the environmental and financial costs of shipping, and supports local fishing industries in Portland, Gloucester, New Bedford and Point Judith, RI.  Right now what’s running off the New England coastline is represented in Rendezvous by gray sole with early summer greens, capers and sage brown butter and bluefish with charmoula and cucumber salad.  Scallops, squid, clams, and oysters stay reliably on the menu as they’re fished locally all year.   

Chef, cookbook author and National Geographic Fellow Barton Seaver describes the best way to think about sustainable fish choices like this:   Imagine the ocean as a diving board.  At the start of the diving board are phytoplankton.  In the middle are filter-feeders like oysters and clams, and then small to medium-sized species like mackerel, herring, and sardines.  At the far end are the large species like swordfish, salmon, and tuna.  Jump hard on the far end, and you send everything else flying.  Jump on the middle of the diving board, and each end jiggles a lot; you lose some but not everything.  Seaver says it’s important to eat from the middle of the diving board, and to step gently at the front.

One commercial fishing site I looked at described Boston mackerel as “the fish that gives us something to catch when there’s not a lot else going on,” perhaps a vernacular translation of what Barton Seaver is trying to say; they’re a lot of mackerel, and we should learn to enjoy them. Yes, there are bones, but there’s also more flavor in mackerel than a lot of other species.  As mentioned, Johnson grills them to a crisp, black crust and serves them with an Asian cucumber salad, a cool balance to those grilled omega 3’s.  

Generally, the higher the fat content the more quickly a fish breaks down, so Johnson stresses it’s important to find a source of very fresh mackerel.  Mackerel run in New England in the spring and fall, so Johnson promises this cucumber salad would be delicious today with grilled bluefish fillets treated the exact same way.  But, save this recipe for September when the mackerel are running again, and they’re fat from feeding all summer on whitebait and grass shrimp, or else think of them as even richer in phosphatidylserines and omega 3’s.
From Food Columnist Heather AtwoodThe Weber grilling equipment used to produce this video was supplied by Foster's BBQ Grill Store in Gloucester, MA. You can see these and their other products on their web site -

I'm with Steve Johnson of Rendezvous Restaurant in Central Square. Hi, Steve.

Hi, Heather.

Thanks for coming up to Pigeon Grove today.

Thanks for having me. It's a beautiful view from here.

Isn't it nice? So you're going to grill some fish.

We're going to grill some Atlantic mackerel. Or locally, they're referred to as Boston mackerel, a little chauvinistic term. They're absolutely beautiful. So will you tell me about these guys?

Yeah. I've got one whole one here. The rest of them are cleaned. Basically a one pound fish, and given its size and shape, it lends itself particularly well to grilling whole on the grill. So that's why we're going to use it today.

All right, good. So these guys are cleaned.

They're very simple to clean in terms of fish. Very fine scales and then the gutting part is very simple.

But you serve them tail on, head on, the whole thing, right?

Exactly. It's an abundant species in terms of a healthy population. And it's a fresh, local, seasonal item. They swim along the New England coast.

Tasty, above all else. I just brushed them using my fingers here, with a little bit of olive oil and sprinkled them with some salt.

OK. So the taste, tell me about taste of the mackerel?

Well, they're an oily fish. They're a member of the tuna family, as you can probably tell by their shape. They've got this great oily fish flavor. When it's fresh, it's really fantastic. And they are high in omega three fatty acids, which is helpful for the good cholesterol. So they've got that really great quality as well.

So they're a super food fish?

Yeah. The other thing that's awesome about these fish is that they are low on the food chain and so in terms of any bad qualities that fish acquire, as they move up the food chain--

Like mercury, is that what we're thinking?

Yeah. Yeah, all the heavy metals that reside in the fish. These are good fish because they are low on the food chain and you get all the good qualities without any of the bad qualities that they might acquire later on.

You don't want to grill it over too hot of a fire. But we're going to leave it on the first side here for about six or seven minutes while we get a nice char on the outside, hopefully with some nice blistered highlights. And this an edible skin here. So we're going to try to cook it just right so that we can enjoy the qualities of the oily skin as well.

I'm going to sneak a little peak here, without committing too much to flipping the thing. I'm just going to give it a little prod to see if it wants to come free--

Because you don't want it to stick.

--on the first side.

So what's the trick? You put some oil on the skin and the salt and pepper. Did you put any oil on the grill?

I put a little oil on the grill. But the key to proper grilling for the fish is to have a super clean grill. My rule of thumb is that if you think it's ready to turn, you want to wait another couple of minutes because it's probably going to want to cook just a little bit longer. And there we did pretty good--

That's pretty beautiful.

--on the first side. Not too bad.

One little stick, but that's pretty beautiful.

Nothing that we can't fix in Photoshop. There we go.

That's perfect.

Over a medium hot fire, the first side is going to take about six or seven minutes. And then the second side is only going to take two or three to fully cook the fish all the way through.

Once the internal juices of this fish get heated up, then it starts to steam on the inside. Protected by that skin, as the temperature rises, it's actually steaming--


--itself on the inside all the way through.

So Steve, will you tell me about this unbelievably beautiful salad that I think you're going to put on that plate with that mackerel?

This is actually a spicy cucumber salad mixed with some spicy onions, some chopped scallions, mint, and cilantro And the onions are quick pickled in a mixture of lime juice, salt, a pinch of sugar, and a little bit of fish sauce.

And then the effect of the mint and cilantro is to kind of cool the whole thing off again on the palate. It is designed specifically for use with grilled, oily fishes. So the mackerel is a great application, blue fish, as well salmon, tuna, and the like.

So now we're going to try to test the doneness on the fish.

It looks gorgeous.

I'll use the tongs to make sure that I can loosen it up if it wants to stick. And I'm going to drizzle some of these juices over the top, because that's all kind of lime juice and salt right there, with a little fish sauce.

With the fish sauce, yeah.

And it's got the oniony flavor.

Oh, that is just beautiful. How do I cut into it, how do I serve it? So go to town. Show me.

Well, these fish are easy because they are small and manageable and they're basically all exactly the same. So once you got one down, you know how to do them all.

I start with a sharp knife down near the tail and I get started there.

You're above the spine, I think.

Yup. I'm on the upside of the vertebrae, but I'm feeling-- you know I cut in there and I feel to where the vertebrae is--

Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.

--as I touch it.

That's pretty obvious, yeah.

And then just with the blade of the knife, you can feel your way along that vertebrae, moving up the fish to the back of the head.

This is our true test of doneness on this fish.


If we can lift that vertebrae out like that, we know that it is cooked perfectly all the way through. That's kind of like what you used to see in the Saturday morning cartoons--

That's right.

--that the cat ate.

That is perfect.

You should your fingers.

I'm going to use my fingers. I'm not getting salad, but--

We're among friends. This is kind of like eating barbecue.

That is so good. I'll try one more bite with the whole thing together.

With the salad.

It's actually really light. I mean you would never call that an oily fish.

People have these concerns. And they think that they're-- about oily fish, they say, ugh, blue fish, it's too fishy or it's too strong, something like that. And I think that can only come from the fact that they ate bad blue fish or old blue fish,--

I think it's both, yeah.

--or poorly handled blue fish at some point in their life and it made a bad impression on them. But I find that the flavor on these fish, there's nothing better if they're truly, truly fresh.

Right. Well thank you so much, Steve. Take a bite--

You bet.

--and thanks again.

It's my pleasure.


Grilled Mackerel
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