Gerookte Makreel

Mackerel and I don't have the best of relationships. My first encounter with this fatty finned food was while fishing one day on the North Sea, many years ago. It was cold, it was windy and trying to get those slippery fish off the hook while they void their vent on you is a hassle and a half. Not my idea of a fun afternoon, mind you, and I venture to say not the mackerel's either.

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.

The Dutch traditionally don't smoke many of their foods for preservation or flavor: rookworst (smoked kielbasa), rookvlees (thinly sliced smoked sandwich meat, made from either beef or horse), rookkaas (smoked cheese) are just about it. But visit any fish monger worth his weight and you will find smoked mackerel, smoked eel and smoked herring (bokking) as part of the assortment. Whether as a sandwich filling or as a fatty snack by itself, both mackerel and eel are Dutch favorites when it comes to fish.

Fatty fish are great sources for Omega-3 fatty acids and two portions a week are said to do you much good. Both eel and mackerel are fatty fish and a little bit goes a long way. A one pound mackerel will probably serve three to four easily. Do serve it with either a bread and butter pickle or a pickle spear, to cut through the fat.

*Caution: fatty fish are much more prone to spoilage. As soon as the fish has thawed, gut it and put in in a salt bath, per recipe's instructions. The salt will flavor the meat but also kill any possible pathogens. Brine it for at least three hours, or even better if you can leave it soaking overnight in the fridge.

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.

Gerookte Makreel
2 mackerel
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.

Keep the fish submerged in the brine for at least three hours, but if you can brine them overnight in the fridge, even better. The next day, rinse the fish and pat them dry. Insert a sausage hook (I used the metal hooks from a bungee cord) into the back of the head of the fish. 

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.


  1. Ziet er lekker uit. En bedankt voor de makreel :) Die gaat morgen tijdens de lunch het onderspit delven :) Vanavond eerst even wat toast met haring salade.

  2. Hats off to you Nicole for smoking your own mackerel! You amaze me, you really do!

    Someday I may do the same but for now I will get my smoked fish the old-fashioned visiting my local Dutch import store! Lekker, all the same...

  3. Well I do have a smoker but I have never got the luck to find mackerel in the freezer section. Mental note check the freezer section. Great recipe.

  4. Happily we have fresh mackerel readily available to us here... but unhappily, I have no smoker and couldn't really justify buying one, as I wouldn't smoke enough stuff to make it worthwhile. That and I have no idea where I'd find the space to store it. ;)

    I'm just so impressed that you do it though. :)


  5. well - for the folks who do not have a smoker - here a BBQ solution I used before I had a smoker in the backyard.
    Works great too !!

    Take a Disposable Aluminum pan and fill it with your favorite dry wood chips - I normally use Hickory Chips or Pecan here in Texas; but any fruitwood, Oak, or hardwood works.. wrap the pan with alum foil and cut 2 or 3 sleeves in the top of the foil.
    Place the pan with the woodchips over the direct heated side of the BBQ and close the cover - when you see a light blue smoke develop, place the brined and dried Mackerels on the other (not fired) side of the grill grid - and close the top again - run the grill at about 225-250 F and check every once in a while until the fish is done!

    here you see some of them done that way, cooling off in the kitchen..

  6. oops - just to prevent confusion -

    do not place the mackerels in a pan on the grill

    but place them direcly on the grill grid..

  7. In Holland de makreel is gestoomt, dat geeft een heel andere smaak als smoked. Je kan ook een soort namaak doen in de oven, een temp van ongeveer 200F voor een paar uur.

  8. How long do I need to keep it in the smoker for? Just got one and still figuring out how to use it. Thanks for the tips, will try this as soon as I find Mackerel in the freezer section.


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