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Sticky mackerel fillet

Updated: Fri, 27 January, 2023

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.

sticky mackerel fillets

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!

sticky pan fried mackerel

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.

how to fry mackerel fillets

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.

pan fried mackerel fillets with sweet and spicy sauce

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.

sweet spicy and crispy mackerel

Sticky mackerel fillet

Servings: 2Time: 10 minutes
Rating: (3 reviews)


  • 2 large mackerel, filleted
  • 1 tbsp groundnut oil (half that if pan is non-stick)
  • salt and black pepper
  • 1 tsp butter
  • 1 tbsp capers in brine, drained
  • ½ lemon, juice only
  • 2 tbsp sweet chili sauce


1. Rinse and pin bone the fillets; dry them thoroughly with paper towels, especially the skin side. Keep them skin side up until ready to cook.

2. Heat a frying pan until it almost smokes, add the oil and place the fillets skin side down. Season with salt and pepper. Press them down gently with a spatula when they start to curl up.

3. Fry for about 2-3 minutes until the flesh around the edges turns opaque.

4. Flip the fillets over, add the butter, the capers, drizzle with the chili sauce and the lemon juice. Let it all bubble then switch off the heat; the fish will continue cooking on residual heat.

5. After a minute remove from the pan, place the fillets on serving plates and spoon the sauce over the fish.

Originally published: Tue, 16 September, 2014

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Your comments

Anna @ CuisineFiend
Hi Deborah - thank you! I'm very pleased you liked it.
14 days ago
Deborah Hutchings
Quick, easy tasty. Could not find the sweet chilli so used sweet Chinese hoisin. I suspect sweet without the chilli kick. It was lovely though. thanks
14 days ago
Anna @ CuisineFiend
Hi Mackenzie - I'm so glad to hear it! And I'll definitely have to try it with teriyaki sauce.
3 months ago
I was making this recipe when I realized last minute we were out of sweet chili sauce and in an impulse substituted teriyaki sauce and oh my gosh!!!! If you're an eel lover it reminds me so much of it taste and texture wise, I cannot recommend giving it a try enough! This is my first time having mackerel and I couldn't be happier! I'll have to get some sweet chili sauce today because I have another filet and try it the right way!
3 months ago
Anna @ CuisineFiend
Hi Peter - hope you enjoy it!
6 months ago
I am going to cook your recipe tonight, it sounds really good. Thank you
6 months ago

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Hello! I'm Anna Gaze, the Cuisine Fiend. Welcome to my recipe collection.

I have lots of recipes for you to choose from: healthy or indulgent, easy or more challenging, quick or involved - but always tasty.


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