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Grilled Mackerel

Grilled Mackerel

Melissa Clark's article on cooking bluefish and preparing oily fish Japanese-style. Learn about traditional Japanese techniques for mackerel and other oily fish, and find out why these fish are so popular in Japan.

Oily fish like mackerel, herring, anchovy, and, yes, bluefish don't suffer from overfishing (learn more here) -- but in America, at least, they often fall victim to undereating (is that a word?). That's a shame, because these fish are so rich, juicy, delicious and flavorful, and a snap to cook. In Japan, mackerel, herring and anchovy are enormously popular (although I haven't seen bluefish there); I've been to joint outside Tokyo that served anchovy over thirty ways, while mackerel has long historical significance in Kyoto. So why aren't we eating more of these fish?

Here's an absolutely simple way to prepare mackerel, perfect for summer. Pair the fish with grated daikon (daikon oroshi) and soy sauce to balance the oiliness. Daikon, in fact, has natural enzymes that help you digest rich foods. So here's the technique for the mackerel in the picture above, which you can try with other oily fish, too:

Grilled Mackerel with Daikon Oroshi


  • 1 filet of mackerel (Boston mackerel recommended)
  • Salt
  • Daikon radish
  • High smoke point cooking oil
  • Soy sauce for serving


  1. Salt the Mackerel: Liberally salt the mackerel filet and let it sit at room temperature for 20 minutes. This process concentrates the flavor, expels water, and makes the flesh denser for grilling.

  2. Prepare the Daikon: Grate a piece of daikon using a coarse grater. Set aside.

  3. Preheat the Skillet: Preheat a heavy cast iron skillet with the cover on over high heat. Ensure the skillet is extremely hot for optimal grilling results.

  4. Prepare the Fish for Cooking: Wipe off any excess moisture from the fish. Cut an X into the skin of the fish to prevent it from shrinking when it hits the heat.

  5. Cook the Mackerel: Add a little high-smoke-point oil to the skillet, coating the entire surface. Place the fish in the skillet, skin side down. Cover and sear for 2 minutes. Then uncover, turn the fish, and sear on the other side for about 2 minutes or until the fish is just cooked through. Ensure proper ventilation to manage any smoke.

  6. Serve: Place the grilled mackerel on a plate with a clump of daikon oroshi (grated daikon) on the side. Add a few drops of soy sauce to the daikon oroshi to enjoy with the fish.