The mackerel is always an abundant fish because it grows quite quickly, but mainly because it is not overfished. Between March and July, the females lay 200,000–500,000 eggs, which float in the water. 15 days later the fry appear, which not only feed on zooplankton, but also fish larvae, including a fair amount of their congeners. When they are 1 year old, they are 15 cm long. They reach adulthood when they are 3 years old and can reproduce.
This gregarious fish lives in schools, spends summer in cold water and then migrates to warmer waters in the fall.
Mackerel has always been consumed by man and traces of this fish have been found in remains in Asia. The Romans used its viscera to make garum. Later on, Jacques Cartier, during his trip to America in 1534, saw Native Americans fishing for mackerel along the Gaspé Peninsula (south-east Quebec). It went on to become one of the most caught fish in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, both by Canadians and Americans, so much so that stocks ran out. This was in the 1880s!
At the same time, mackerel was so abundant in the Channel that Boulogne had the idea of selling their surplus as "ready-to-eat" fillets marinated in white wine with herbs.
The word mackerel possibly comes from the old French word maquerel. The current French maquereau also means "pimp” and it was this second meaning that emerged in 1265 from the Dutch makelaer, meaning broker, and was then used to refer to the fish in 1268. It has long been said that this homonym comes from the fact that mackerel accompanied herrings during their migrations to bring the males and females together, thus playing the role of matchmaker. In fact, there is no truth in this. Mackerels do swim around shoals of herring, but only to gobble up the little ones!
The most likely hypothesis is that the name mackerel derives from the Latin macula, meaning "spot", in reference to the marks on its back.
The French call gooseberries groseille à maquereau (literally: mackerel gooseberries). This name possibly comes from the presence of this fruit in a very old sauce, originally from England, which was served with this fish, but perhaps also from the fact that this white/green berry is spotted with black marks, just like the mackerel.
A mackerel must not only be strong, but also very rigid. If it is not, it means that it was caught more than 24 hours previously. Bright eyes, a metallic sheen on the skin, and a well-rounded and light belly are signs of its freshness. Mackerels with burst bellies should be discarded.
Line-caught mackerel is always better than trawled mackerel.
Mackerel is sold fresh or frozen, whole or in fillets.
Canned mackerel with various flavors can be bought.
It is also available as smoked fillets, sometimes called buckling.
A mackerel is first gutted and washed and can then be used in a number of ways: whole, cut into pieces, or filleted.
Escoffier's Guide Culinaire gives combinations of mackerel and gooseberries, such as his Maquereau à l'Anglaise, in which the fish is cut into pieces and then poached and served "mashed quite light green berries".
Mackerel can be cooked in foil, broiled, or made into mackerel meuniere. It can be cooked à la Dieppoise, or poached in a broth, and served with various sauces, which are usually slightly tangy to provide a balance with the flavors of its fairly fatty flesh. It can also be marinated or smoked.
Fragile mackerel flesh must be used quickly. It can be kept for a maximum of 24 hours in a refrigerator or cold room at 4 °C.
Mackerel is an oily fish and therefore rich in unsaturated fatty acids, including the famous Omega 3.
It also contains protein, lots of minerals and trace elements, B vitamins, and vitamin D.
Different species of mackerel exist. The most common are the common mackerel or blue mackerel and Spanish mackerel or spotted mackerel, which can be distinguished from the former type by its spotted belly.
The horse mackerel, sometimes called the European horse mackerel, belongs to another family of fish.
The lisette is a very small mackerel.
Mackerel are fished all year round. In Europe, it is best from May through September.
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