Despite a few memorable experiences, as a kid, of fishing the eel in l’Isle (pronounced “eel”, yes!) river with my uncle or the sole in the ocean waves of Cap Ferret with another uncle, both locations near Bordeaux, I have never really been into fishing. I guess that patience is the first quality to have when you fish, and… I let you finish the sentence.

But there was an exception. Fishing the mackerel. Exactly, as there are many varieties of mackerels, the Atlantic mackerel that is very common on the European West coast, and in particular, as far as I was concerned, in Brittany. Because of its abundance, and also, probably, because of its strong fishy taste, it is one of the cheapest fish that you can find. But how beautiful! It is shaped like a rocket, because, despite its small size, it is a remarkable and efficient predator (it is a “cousin” of the tuna fish) of smaller fish and shrimps, and it features marvelous colors, with its silver white belly and its darker striped back with steel blue and emerald green notes. A superb fish!


This is a fish I used to fish a lot when I was sailing on the Eastern Atlantic coast from Spain to Ireland. Fishing? After I explain the technique, you will understand why my best quality, patience, is not really at stake here. To fish mackerels from a sailing boat, you use a paravane. This is a very simple device, shaped somewhat like a miniature surf, which was invented during WWI and used by submarines as an anti-mine weapon. In fishing, it is used for the same characteristics, i.e. its faculty to rise up to the surface when loaded, with a mine… or a bunch of mackerels. For fishing the mackerels, the paravane is equipped with a line carrying half a dozen, or more, of metallic lures… So, no worm bites, no waiting for hours for a catch… In 5 minutes, the line is generally garnished of enough mackerels to feed the entire crew…

On a boat, my classical recipe was to cook them with mustard in a pan, as there is typically no such thing as an oven in those small sailing boats, just a stove mounted on gimbals. But here, I had an oven and the mackerel was a Spanish mackerel, a version twice as big as the 1-foot long Atlantic mackerel. But their tastes are very similar.

Ingredients (for 4 servings):

  • 1 Spanish mackerel (~2-foot long), gutted (needless to scale it as it has no scale, or it has tiny scales embedded in the skin for a better hydrodynamics) 
  • ~ 2 generous tbsp. of Dijon mustard 
  • ~2 generous tbsp. of old-style Dijon mustard (that with seeds) 
  • ~ 2 generous tbsp. of breading crumb 
  • 4 tbsp. of crème fraîche or heavy cream 
  • 2 lemons, 1 for its juice, the other for a “tasty” decoration 
  • 1 glass of dry white wine (Muscadet here) 
  • 1 carrot 
  • 1 red onion 
  • 4 tbsp. of olive oil 
  • Seasoning – salt, piment d’Espelette, 6 bay leaves, thyme, cloves… 
  • Sunflower sprouts
  • Combination of 12 Fingerling and purple potatoes 


  • Fillet the mackerel, or ask your fishmonger to do it, but keep the bones and the head to make a broth. 
  • Keep only the widest halves, 4 pieces, of those fillets (the tail could be used otherwise, for instance marinated); 
  • Make a quick broth with the onion (keep a quarter to slice with the mackerel), the carrot (keep a quarter to slice with the mackerel), 2 bay leaves, part of the thyme and the cloves; 
  • Cook the potatoes in the broth and when they are at 75% cooked, slice them and steam them above the broth to finish their cooking and further flavor them; 
  • Pour and spread the olive oil on the bottom of a rectangular oven dish, with the remaining thyme, 4 bay leaves, onion slices and carrot slices; 
  • Brush the flesh side of the fish fillets with the Dijon mustard; 
  • Place the fillets in the dish, skin side up, on the layer of olive oil; 
  • Mix the lemon juice and the wine and pour the mix in the dish up to just below the skin side of the fish. As it is better to use a dish fitting the size of the fillets, you might not use the whole wine/lemon juice mix. Otherwise, complete it. 
  • Mix the old-style mustard and the breading crumb (the crumb will avoid the mustard to “melt” on the skin and will give a slight crispy texture when grilled), and spread this mixture equally on the skin side 
  • Cook for around 12 minutes at 400F in the oven, then broil for 2 minutes to add a light “gratiné” to the mustard top layer. 
  • Take part of the cooking juice (without the bay leaves, carrots and onions) and mix it with the cream. If you use crème fraîche, do that out of the burner. With the heavy cream, let it simmer while stirring up to reduce it. Taste and season it, and possibly add some Dijon mustard to your taste. 
  • Serve the mackerel fillet with or on top of the potato scallops, add a segment of lemon, a bay leaf, a couple of carrot, onion slices, and sunflower sprouts for decoration, and pour a generous quantity of the mustard sauce… 
  • The Muscadet used to cook will be perfect as an accompanying wine… 

Who want to go fishing the mackerel?


  1. What a treat to read the story of this dish, with knowledge gained from true experiences. This sounds like a sumptuous and aromatically satisfying dish.


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