About Spanish Mackerel

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

In Aliza Green's "Field Guide to Seafood," mackerel gets high marks for its omega-3 fatty acids. But the author notes that the fish is underappreciated in the United States because its flesh is firm and oily, with an assertive flavor.

Spanish mackerel passes muster in the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch guide to responsible seafood choices, but the Environmental Defense Fund advises that because of high mercury levels in mackerel, the fish should be eaten no more than twice a month by adults and once a month by children.

Mackerel season starts in early June and runs through the beginning of October in the mid-Atlantic states, where the fish average 16 to 22 inches long and weigh two or three pounds. Virginia Beach charter boat captain Jake Hiles says the fish this year have "had a really good run," with their range extending far up into the Chesapeake Bay. "They were plentiful around the Bay Bridge," he reported last week.

As for what happens when they hit the plate, Hiles says mackerel fillets are usually fried (skin-on) in beer batter where he lives, with folks picking gingerly around the skin as they eat. But he prefers his way of preparing them, which has something in common with chef Morou Ouattara's accompanying recipe: wasabi.

"We use water to thin out wasabi paste or make a thin solution with water and wasabi powder," Hiles said. The paste goes on, "then we roll the fish in sesame seeds and grill it. It holds together pretty well and tastes great with soy sauce and more wasabi on the side."

Our testers found Spanish mackerel at the Whole Foods Market P Street in Northwest and ordered it through BlackSalt in the District's Palisades neighborhood.

-- Bonnie S. Benwick

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