The mackerel is a meaty textured fish that is oily and has a relatively strong flavor. They can be bought fresh but the canned and smoked varieties are more common as they can spoil easily when not stored correctly. In the kitchen, mackerel is excellent for grilling, roasting, pickling, smoking, and baking. Its flavor pairs deliciously with potato and can be used in a variety of baked dishes as well as in fish cakes and pates.
If you can’t get your hands on mackerel for your next recipe or you simply want a different tasting fish, then you need a suitable replacement. We’ve pulled together a delicious range of mackerel substitutes for any situation.
What can I use to replace mackerels in cooking?
To replace canned mackerels in your next dish then use herring, American shad, or sardines to get a similar oily, flavorful seafood. Fresh Spotted or Spanish mackerels have a firmer, white flesh that is good served as a steak; to replace them use mahi mahi, tuna, swordfish, or freshwater eel if you’re in a pinch.
Herrings are small saltwater fish that make a delicious substitute for mackerel. They have flaky meat and a flavor that varies depending on their size – larger specimens having a stronger taste. In the United States finding good quality fresh herring is a challenge but pickled, canned, or smoked fish are abundant.
The mackerel and herring both offer fatty meat; however, mackerel is oilier while the herring is buttery. This results in two fish that have a differing mouthfeel. The other variance you’ll notice is that herring has a lot of bones.
2. American shad
American shad has a salty, sardine-like flavor that makes a useful backup option for mackerel. Its flakes are high in oil content and are excellent smoked, fried, or poached. If you decide to use this option keep in mind that, like its relative the herring, it has lots of bones.
Sardines are rich and oily with a dense texture that is reminiscent of mackerel meat. The freshly cooked fish are tender with flakes that melt in your mouth. You will also find that their flavor reduces in fishiness once cooked.
Canned sardines have a stronger, more pungent flavor than canned mackerel, but they are both excellent for adding savory, umami flavor to dishes. To replace a larger mackerel steak in the frying pan or grill use three to five whole sardines.
How do sardines and anchovies differ?
4. Mahi Mahi
Mahi mahi has a slightly sweet, subtle flavor with a texture that is lean and firm. Once cooked, the fillets offer large juicy flakes that are mild in taste. Although mahi mahi differs from mackerel, it can still be cooked in similar ways and is likely to appeal to those that don’t enjoy a strong fishy flavor.
Bluefish can make an excellent mackerel alternative in your next dish. It tends to vary in flavor depending on the size of the fish, with the larger specimens having a stronger taste. The fillets are moist and highly perishable so they can be hard to find in store through many parts of the U.S.
Be sure to remove the dark strip of meat in the fillet if you want a milder tasting fish.
Butterfish, also known as white tuna, has rich and buttery meat that is a clean white color. Its flavor is closer to cod than it is mackerel, but it is a versatile ingredient and can be cooked in almost any way you choose. It can also be used as sashimi, eaten raw. Anyone looking to make fish cakes or hoping to serve fish as a brunch option should consider butterfish as a worthy contender.
Salmon is a common seafood in supermarkets and at fish shops. It is a reasonably priced, delicious fish that is easy to cook with a splash of olive oil. It has a similarly rich, oily meat to mackerel although more subtle in taste. Salmon is another excellent alternative to mackerel if you’re after a milder tasting fish.
Fresh tuna is packed in oil and has a slightly salty and sweet flavor when eaten raw. Large fillets have a dense and meaty texture that is similar to a mature mackerel. For a similar option, you could also try swordfish which also has a meat-like texture.
9. Freshwater Eel
Eel won’t be everyone’s idea of delicious seafood, but if you’re looking to replace Spanish mackerel then it makes a good choice. Both types of fish have a deep and rich flavor which is excellent when balanced out by sweet sauces like hoisin or honey soy. For traditional Italian recipes that call for mackerel, the freshwater eel will make a handy substitute.
Fast facts about mackerels
- Common types include blue mackerel, school mackerel, spotted mackerel, and grey mackerel. Spanish mackerel are the most popular variety, caught by commercial fishermen.
- They are vulnerable to overfishing as they stick together in tight schools and can be easily caught in nets.
- The mackerel loves the open waters in tropical and temperate waters.
- When catching fresh mackerel, they should be immediately refrigerated and cooked as soon as possible as they are highly perishable.
Mackerel is a small oily fish that has plenty of pungent flavor, especially once mature. To replace mackerel, your best option is to use herring, American shad, or sardines. While each fish has unique characteristics, they all can be used for similar uses in the kitchen. For a more subtle taste, consider using mahi mahi, bluefish, butterfish, or salmon. Fresh tuna and swordfish are great options for a dense-textured fish that can be pan-fried like a steak.
What is your favorite type of fish for eating? Please let us know in the comments below.