There’s more than one way to prepare mackerel, a favorite of many and a true delicacy from the sea.
And although each method gives a unique result, all of them must respect a basic safety rule: the safe minimum internal temperature for the consumption of fish.
If you feel like you’re always winging it when it comes to preparing mackerel, whether on the stovetop, in the oven, or on the grill, you no longer need to! We’ve written this guide to help you know exactly what internal temperature to look for, and more.
Cook your mackerel to an internal temperature of 145°F (63°C). This temperature applies to all cooking methods and should be measured with a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the fish.
Some bloggers, celebrity chefs, and cookbook authors may recommend lower internal temperatures for more tenderness. Although the decision is ultimately yours, keep in mind that you’re taking a risk by doing so, as bacteria, parasites, and viruses in undercooked mackerel can make you sick.
Also, do not forget that by cooking mackerel for the members of your household, you’re very often taking that decision for them. If you’re preparing mackerel for the young, the pregnant, the elderly, and those with a compromised immune system, cook it thoroughly to keep the risk of foodborne illness to an absolute minimum.
What About the Time in the Recipe?
Cooking times given in recipes are only approximate, and you should treat them as such.
The exact cooking time for mackerel, whole or filleted, comes down to its size, the appliance you cook it on, the cooking vessel you prepare it in, the method of cooking, as well as the amount of heat used.
These factors, as you have probably already thought to yourself, vary greatly from home kitchen to home kitchen and from cook to cook. The only way to reliably tell if mackerel is done is to check it early and check it often.
Now you know how, and what internal temperature to look for!
The Best Ways to Cook Mackerel
Mackerel is best prepared in three ways: under the broiler, in the pan, and on the grill.
Broiling mackerel: To broil mackerel, heat your broiler for 15 to 30 minutes. Just before cooking, take the mackerel out of the refrigerator, season it generously with salt, place it on a greased sheet pan and slide it under the broiler. Check for doneness after 2-3 minutes.
Pan-frying mackerel: To pan-fry mackerel, pull out a cast iron skillet or non-stick pan, add a big dollop or two of cooking oil, and heat over medium heat. Salt the mackerel liberally and fry. Check for doneness when it’s golden brown on both sides.
Grilling mackerel: For charcoal grills, light the coals and wait 20 minutes. For gas grills, light the burners and heat on medium for 15 minutes.
Season the mackerel, place it on a tray greased with cooking oil and let it cook on the grill with the lid closed. Check for doneness when it has turned a golden brown color.
Mackerel pairs deliciously well with .
Can You Undercook Mackerel?
Mackerel can indeed be undercooked. And when it is, eating it can lead to food poisoning or a parasite infection. Take caution to cook your mackerel to the safe minimum internal temperature for consumption.
A lot of home cooks and their households enjoy eating lightly cooked mackerel. But mackerel, high in moisture and rich in proteins, can harbor disease-causing bacteria and harmful parasites of the sea if undercooked.
In particular, raw or undercooked mackerel may be contaminated with Salmonella, a pathogenic bacterium that causes a serious disease called salmonellosis, as well as a number of parasites, called “worms,” known to infect fish.
Can You Overcook Mackerel?
Like all other fish and creatures of the sea, mackerel overcooks quickly.
Overcooked mackerel is dry, tough, and rubbery, and is often left uneaten. Sure, you can always give it a makeover by adding it to a soup or stew—but then there’s little point in baking, broiling, grilling, or pan-frying it in the first place.
Remove the mackerel from the heat as soon as it reaches an internal temperature of 145°F (63°C). If you don’t trust yourself to keep the mackerel from overcooking, braise or poach it.
Both of these cooking methods rely on moist heat, and so they’re more forgiving of mistakes and haste.
Mackerel should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 145°F (63°C), regardless of the cooking method. Broil it, pan-fry it, or cook it on the grill, and be sure that you neither under- or overcook it.