Make the most of seasonal mackerel by smoking it at home – recipe

Mackerel travels in huge shoals, and when they’re in season, the sea seems to be almost boiling with them. If you’re lucky enough to witness this spectacle off the beach and you happen to have a rod handy, chances are you’ll be able to catch them by the bucket-load, especially in high summer, when they are especially plentiful.

Mackerel is a worthy hero ingredient: it’s economical, sustainable and good for you, too, being especially rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Store fresh mackerel wrapped up in the coldest part of the fridge (on the bottom shelf at the back, say). And, once the fish have been filleted, keep the skeletons, too, because they make a delicious and nourishing stock or, when shallow-fried until golden brown and crisp and generously seasoned with sea salt and spices, an unexpectedly moreish snack.

Smoking is a tasty, time-honoured way to cook and partially preserve many perishable foods, especially fish and meat. It’s easy to do at home, too.

Tea-smoked mackerel

Hot-smoking your own food feels adventurous, but it’s really simple, even without any specialist equipment, so long as you remember to turn on your extractor to full to avoid setting off any alarms. All you need to build a makeshift hot smoker at home is a roasting tray or grill, a wire rack and an upturned oven tin to use as a lid.

Mackerel can live for up to 20 years and weigh up to a whopping 3½kg. When shopping for them, look for mature fish that are at least 28cm in length. Serve your smoked mackerel as part of a smörgåsbord or summer picnic, flake it into salads or mash it into a paté with clarified butter, creme fraiche, lemon and lots of black pepper.

Fresh mackerel fillets
1-2 tsp fine sea salt per fillet
2-3 tbsp loose tea leaves (eg, black, green, red bush), per smoking tray
1-2 tbsp rice, per smoking tray
Optional aromatics such as lemon zest, spices (allspice, mace, coriander) and hard herbs such as rosemary and/or thyme

Start by sprinkling each fish fillet evenly with a good dusting of fine sea salt, leave for 15 minutes, then rinse off the salt and pat the fish dry with a clean tea towel – this will not only season the fish, but also help firm it up.

To make an ad hoc smoker, put a roasting tray on the hob, and scatter over the tea leaves, rice and your chosen aromatics loosely to cover the base of the tray. Put a wire rack inside the tray and lay the fish skin side down on top. Cover the tray with a lid, an upturned roasting tray or foil, then turn on the heat to medium. After a couple of minutes, when the contents of the tray start smoking, leave for five minutes, then check to see if the fish is cooked through. Once cooked, turn off the heat, leave to cool, then refrigerate and eat within five days.