Last week, many years after our first date, we met again, mackerel and I. Not anywhere near the North Sea, but in the freezer department of a local grocery store. There it was, immediately recognizable by its distinct silver and dark blue pattern, but slightly less agitated than last time. Well, quite a bit less agitated actually, because it was frozen stiff.
For this dish you need a smokehouse or smoker. I purchased a Little Chief smoker and used apple chips to smoke the fish. Keep the temperature at an even 150F for the duration of the process: mackerel should be ready in about an hour and a half.
4 handfuls of apple chips
Thaw the fish in the refrigerator, or in the sink under running water. In the meantime, prepare a salt water solution (1 cup of table salt on sixteen cups of water) with enough water to cover both fish.
Lay the fish on its side, and cut open the belly with a short sharp knife from the vent to the gills. Carefully reach inside and pull out all the organs and the digestive tract. Cut out the gills. Rinse out the cavity and the head, and lay the fish in the salt water brine.
Fire up your smoker. In the meantime, hang the fish somewhere where they are covered, out of the elements but with some kind of airflow. A small fan might just do the trick. Smoke does not penetrate into wet meats, so the drier the fish, the better the smoke flavor.
Hang the mackerel in your smoker, put the lid back on and get smoking! Mackerel has a distinct flavor of its own and apple will give a tender, non-dominant smoke flavor to the fish, but you are welcome to experiment with any other flavors, or stick to your favorite.
Remove the mackerel when they're golden and done, roll them separately in aluminum foil, and let them rest for an hour. If you want to eat them warm (and who doesn't!!), cut off the head and the tail, and carefully break open the fish by inserting your thumbs into the belly cavity. Remove the spines and the skin, and break the remaining meat into large chunks.
Serve as such, on a buttered roll with a pickle, or cold on some crackers as a snack or appetizer.