I have to confess: I don’t often cook mackerel. It has an oily quality that can make it a challenge to work with, but those very oils—omega-3 fatty acids—make it a healthy choice. Research shows that omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation and may help lower risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and arthritis. Mackerel is also very high in protein and contains high amounts of vitamins D, B6 and B12.
Atlantic mackerel is found in temperate waters on both sides on the North Atlantic Ocean. In our part of the Atlantic, it is most abundant around Newfoundland, in the Gulf and estuary of the St. Lawrence, off the coast of Nova Scotia and in the Bay of Fundy during summer and autumn.
Mackerel has been fished in our waters since the early 17th century. When the mackerel is “running,” it weaves in and out of harbours, feasting on anything that swims. This makes for excellent fishing; schools are quite large and it’s possible to catch more than one mackerel at a time using multiple hooks on a line. A license is not required to fish mackerel, which has made it a popular activity in many rural communities. Sometimes the older gents on the wharf speak of fishing for “tinkers”—a common name for small mackerel.
Mackerel spoils very quickly, so it must be kept well chilled. In terms of cooking methods, many people fry this fish but it leaves behind a rather pungent smell in the house. (In fact, no one was allowed to cook it in the house when I was growing up—too smelly.) It is absolutely delicious smoked—especially a female mackerel, if it happens to contain roe. Mackerel is also tasty cooked on the barbecue: just split and gut the fish (see page 50), and place it over medium coals to let it crisp up.
Mackerel begins to run in the Atlantic Provinces in early June, often appearing first on Nova Scotia’s South Shore then winding up towards Cape Breton during July. There are avid mackerel fishermen who follow the school around throughout the season; plenty of online resources (such as novascotiafishing.com) offer tips on where the fishing is best at any given time.