We think that’s a downright shame. Mackerel is very popular in Japan (primarily when served as sushi) and is especially healthy, packed with omega-3s, DHA and EPA. Fresher pieces of mackerel — served at more upscale establishments — are subtler in flavor, with varieties of the fish each offering distinct tastes. Here, chef Masaki Saito of New York City’s omakase mecca Sushi Ginza Onodera advocates on behalf of the oft-maligned fish, breaking down the four types of mackerel most commonly served in sushi restaurants.
Horse mackerel (aji)In Japan, horse mackerel is categorized in a different family. (Mackerel belongs to the Scombridae family, while horse mackerel belongs to the Carangidae family.) It is smaller than other mackerel and has a lighter flavor. Horse mackerel is also popular in edomae-style sushi and is usually served with freshly grated ginger and scallions. Its best season is summer.
Many people avoid eating mackerel at Japanese restaurants, either skipping over it on the menu or specifically requesting the silver fish not be included in a pre-set sushi platter. Mackerel gets a bad rap for being particularly “fishy,” with a tendency for the strong flavor to linger on one’s palate (or fingers) for extended periods of time.
Fun fact: While tuna and bonito don’t have “mackerel” in their names, they also belong to the mackerel family.
Mackerel (saba)Mackerel has the longest history in [traditional] edomae-style sushi. It is rich and has a strong flavor. Saba is usually cured for many hours with salt and vinegar before being served as sushi. This technique was developed to avoid food poisoning but has become essential to showcase the skills of a sushi chef. Many chefs also sear the fish to enhance its aroma. In addition to being served as nigiri, it can be prepared as a maki roll, with sushi rice wrapped inside cured saba. The fish’s best season is fall.
Himono: Hokke spoils easily, so most of it is preserved and sun dried. Its mild taste is unique. Its bones are easy to remove, so hokke is not a hard fish to eat. Chanchanyaki: A local Hokkaido dish of hokke fillet grilled on a teppan plate with vegetables, and seasoned with butter and miso paste.
“Fresh tuna is a great source of omega-3s,” says Zumpano. “But everyone’s desire for sushi may be putting us at risk for mercury toxicity.”
Sardines provide 2 grams of heart-healthy omega-3s per 3 ounce serving, which is one of the highest levels of omega-3 and the lowest levels of mercury of any fish. They contain a great source of calcium and Vitamin D, so they support bone health, too. Other than fortified products, there are few other food sources of Vitamin D. They may be packed in water, tomato juice or olive oil. Read the label to make sure you don’t exceed your daily limits for sodium and fat.
Worried about encountering the entire fish, head intact? Today, only the edible portions are included. Try serving sardines sprinkled with lemon juice and 1 teaspoon of olive oil or with chopped tomatoes and basil, oregano or another Italian seasoning. For a quick snack, serve sardines on whole grain crackers.
“Try it chilled, with a light marinade of white wine vinegar, red onion and dill,” says Zumpano. “Another popular option is to pair herring with mustard and dill.”
Herring contains less mercury than other omega-3-rich fish you may be eating, like tuna, king mackerel, swordfish and halibut.
Which is the tastiest mackerel?
Is Atka mackerel high in mercury?
Are there different types of mackerel fish?