Mackerel Smoked over Fennel

Seafood, Tapas

When I saw the luminescent skin of the Pacific jack mackerel, as if imprinted by ladders of coral and stamped by plumes of seaweed, I couldn’t resist buying them. Still mesmerized by the succulence of the smoked sardines, I decided to do a variation with the beautiful fish using wild fennel.

Wild fennel is beginning to reach its peak. While out harvesting fennel pollen, I stumbled into some of last year’s stalks, dried out to make room for the new, flowering growth. Once I got it home, I ripped it into small chunks resembling wood chips used for smoking. The wood has a subtle fennel sweetness and an earthy mushroom fragrance. Once incendiary, the greenish smoke emits an almost sweet, piney aroma.  You can imagine how well this mixes with the saltiness of the juicy mackerel meat.

By the way, this recipe could easily be doubled or tripled.

Prepare the Mackerel

  • 2 medium mackerel, descaled and gutted
  • A small handful of fresh thyme
  • A handful of wild fennel fronds
  • Coarse sea salt

If they aren’t off, remove the scales. Gut the fish by slicing open the belly, beginning at the pectoral fin and ending at the anal fin. Slide your fingers inside and scoop out the organs. Rinse the fish inside and out with cold water.

Stuff the fresh herbs into the belly, the thyme first, then the fennel. There is a nice pocket behind the head that will hold most of them. Rub each side with coarse sea salt.

Smoke Out

  • Dried fennel stalks, broken into bits
  • Handful of fresh wild fennel fronds and stalks, torn

In an outdoor grill, get some coals hot. I prefer charcoal from wood as it doesn’t burn as hot as the artificial ones. Once they’re hot, spread a layer of the dried fennel stalks, then some fresh fronds, and another layer of chips. They should start smoking immediately.

Lay the mackerel on the rack and cover. There is no need to oil the rack as the mackerel are oily enough. Cook each side about five minutes, or until tender.

Remove from heat with care as the mackerel will be delicate. Pick out the herbs and serve. This makes a great starter or can be served as an entree.

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5 thoughts on “Mackerel Smoked over Fennel

    1. Hi, Shawn,

      Thanks so much for the kind words. How did your own recipe turn out? The fennel is such a fun idea, isn’t it? I see so many tall, dried stalks leaning over sidewalks and under bridges that it’s hard not to yank them out and reserve them for smoking. I wonder whether there might be other stalkier herbs that, when dried, could similarly be used?

  1. It was crazy moist and sweet as sugar pie (I might skip the orange marinade and go with just salt and lemon) pairing well with salads and antipasti and all kinds of goodness.

    Dill, caraway and cumin are related plants and stalk the same way. I dunno what would happen if you dried them and used them to smoke fish. Dill would be exceptional, but can you imagine a cloud of smoked cumin covering your neighbourhood? *laughs* I dunno man, I’m going to let you go first!

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