Fresh mackerel is lovely, especially when simply pan fried. Buy it filleted from the fishmonger and all you need is a really hot pan and some sweet and sharp flavours.
Secrets to pan frying fish
There are two simple secrets to successfully pan-frying fish. One is a smoking hot frying pan and the other – the skin of the fish perfectly dry.
Otherwise it’s the usual outcome: scraping the fish bits off the pan forever, the dinner a sorry mess and of course scrubbing the pan like mad afterwards.
I was quite shamefully overcome with schadenfreude once, watching a Famous Chef on his television programme frying a sea bass or sea bream fillet. The skin got stuck a little and it was ever so slightly a mess.
While when I cook fish fillets in the frying pan, it never sticks!
How to fry fish?
So what do you do? Well, after rinsing the fish you need to make a couple of incisions in the skin to let the heat penetrate better and shorten the cooking time. Then you must thoroughly pat it dry with paper towels and keep the fillets waiting skin side up so that it dries further.
A non-stick frying pan helps, but it’s not essential. I usually use my well-seasoned cast iron pan to fry fish in, just brushed with oil and heated up till smoking – that part of non-negotiable, whatever pan you have.
Into that screaming hot pan the fish goes in, skin side down, and is pressed down briefly with a spatula as it will invariably curl down before relaxing flat again.
Cook it until the flesh starts turning opaque along the edges, about two minutes. Then flip it over, add a blob of butter and switch off the heat: the fish will finish cooking in the residual heat.
How to tackle the mackerel
I would advise no marinade for pan-fried fish as marinade would burn into the pan which needs to be super hot.
But mackerel is a little bland so to stop it from being utterly boring you need to add some sweet and sharp flavours.
It will go into the pan, skin side down, seasoned only with salt and pepper and you can sprinkle both straight onto the fillets once they’re in.
When the edges turn opaque, which is the sign the mackerel is ready to turn, add the butter to the pan and flip the fillets.
Drizzle sweet chilli sauce over the skin, add capers and a squeeze of lemon and turn off the heat. Let the mackerel finish cooking gently in the sweet, sticky, buttery sauce before transferring it onto plates and spooning the sauce over.
It's lovely served with green vegetables or vibrant spring cabbage salad.
More mackerel recipes
Oven baked mackerel fillets stuffed with capers and olives, a simple recipe for roasted mackerel fillets wrapped in pancetta, filled with a caper and olive paste.
Grilled whole mackerel with spice crust: it’s healthy, it’s cheap and it takes fifteen minutes to prepare. With a squeeze of lemon and a simple salad, it’s an easy and delightful dish.
Fresh mackerel fillets stuffed with samphire, anchovy and breadcrumb mix, grilled and served with parsley butter. Tom Kerridge's fantastic recipe for seaside stuffed mackerel.
More easy fish recipes
Whole sea bass baked on a bed of lemon slices. Whole sea bass or sea bream is easy to prepare and tastes great baked with herbs and lemon, no need to bake it in foil.
Simple and perfect grilled salmon fillet seasoned only with salt and olive oil. Keep the skin on and grill it for five minutes on each side - that's the whole secret.
Pan fried skin-on fish fillets with creamed spinach. It’s simple: all you need is for the fish fillet skin to be really dry and the pan to be really hot.