There are many species that have ‘mackerel-like’ features but the most most commonly considered is the Atlantic mackerel (‘Scomber scombrus’) from the family Scombridae, which also includes tuna and bonito. The mackerel is a wonderful fish, as anyone who has witnessed them swimming in dense silvery shoals will attest. Their streamlined shape is perfect for fast swimming, and their beautiful colouring – mottled shiny black-blue back and silvery white underside – works as clever camouflage, making it less visible from above against the dark seabed, and less visible from below against a light-coloured sky.
The stripes are perhaps of most interest as they are not, as previously thought, there to provide camouflage, but as a device for the fish to align themselves with adjacent fish. Using an ‘optokinetic reflex’ that is sensitive to moving stripes, each fish can detect changes in the stripes on its neighbour and so quickly change speed and direction to adjust. The longest recorded mackerel was 66cm and they can live to be as old as 18 years.
At this time of year, mackerel is particularly good to eat as the fish is fattening up for winter, and so exceptionally juicy and delicious. And the mackerel is a fish that is very close to Feng Sushi Silla’s heart.
‘I grew up with mackerel. It reminds me of summer holidays spent on my dad’s sailing boat. Then, when I first went to Tokyo, back in 1996, the great Mr Shibuichi taught me how to prepare it in the traditional Japanese way. I love this fish and really enjoy including it in my sushi class at Billingsgate. It’s my pièce de résistance, and students are always surprised at how delicate and fresh mackerel can taste’.
The Atlantic mackerel is most only found in the north Atlantic and had been certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council but sadly, in March of this year, owing to a dispute about fishing quotas between the UK, Iceland and the Faroe Islands, the UK fisheries lost their MSC status. There is currently an action plan that will hopefully resolve this issue, involving the cooperation of all the fisheries (and it is said that the commitment and international cooperation of these fisheries is unparalleled) and Feng Sushi really hopes that the plan will bring about a speedy resolution but, in the meantime, as we believe that the mackerel fisheries of the West and South coast of England are well managed and sustainable – they use day boats and the line-caught method –we are continuing to source our mackerel from these shores.
The mackerel is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids and, being a fatty fish, responds well to salt curing, pickling and sushi. Feng Sushi’s preparation of mackerel is classic Japanese: clean, fillet, salt, rinse, marinate in sushi vinegar, kombu and soy sauce. Kombu is a type of edible seaweed used for its flavour-enhancing properties, as it is ‘umami’, the fifth taste along with salt, sour, sweet and bitter.