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Last week, over at Brand X, I wrote a piece about fishing for Spanish mackerel with my in-laws. Well, to be more precise, it was a piece about not fishing for Spanish mackerel, since I got sicker than a Hill intern on a weekend bender.

Among the haters who commented on the story was united100, who wrote this:

Are there different kinds of “Spanish Mackerel?” I caught some off of Ocracoke a few weeks ago. While the flesh was firm as noted in the sidebar/ article, My wife and I found it to be a very mild, not too oily fish. When I had mentioned to the other five fishers on the boat that I had never eaten Spanish Mackerel and thought it was an oily strong smelling fish, they looked at me like I was from another planet. They said Spanish Mackerel was “great eating” and not a strong smelling fish.

My wife and I only eat mild tasting fish like Halibut, Mahi Mahi fluke etc.

IMO this article does a great disservice to the fish and fosters the misconception that Mackerel is an overgrown Sardine that needs to have its stinkiness covered up by other flavors.

Can somebody with more experience with fish enlighten me as to why my experience was so different from what one reads about Mackerel?

For the record, I’m not the only one who thinks mackerel is oily and/or strong flavored (or even stinky). Mark Bittman says the same thing in his Fish: The Complete Guide to Buying and Cooking. (I even quote his book in the story.) So does the Environmental Defense Fund on its Seafood Selector guide. Even the great Harold McGee in On Food and Cooking lists mackerel among the “high-fat fish.”

So is united100 just yanking my chain? No, not at all.

I called a couple of chefs to get their take on this issue, and both said essentially the same thing. Fresh Spanish mackerel, the kind that fishers pull right from the ocean, don’t have a strong, stinky flavor. Fresh Spanish mackerel, in fact, is “bright, clean, and acidic,” says Barton Seaver, the face of sustainable seafood. “It’s as well balanced as fish get.”

But here’s the thing: The stink starts to creep in the longer the fish stays out of the water.

“When Mackerel is really fresh there is nothing stinky about it,” e-mails Todd Gray, chef and owner of Equinox. “As the fish begins to lose its premium freshness, the blood line begins to release that smell and the oily smell begins to be more prominent. The same is true with blues. Note: the younger the fish the less intense the flavor or ” oily” characteristic.”

Photo by Molly Allan