Maquereau – Mackerel. Mackerel in French Cuisine.

Behind the French menu
Bryan G. Newman

The Atlantic mackerel.
Natural History of British Fishes (1802)
by Edward Donovan (1768-1837). Digitally enhanced.
The Maquereau on French mainland menus is the Atlantic Mackerel in the UK, the Boston Mackerel in the USA. The Atlantic mackerel is both delicious and healthy with lots of omega 3, vitamin B12, vitamin D, niacin, and selenium; it is also one of the most popular fish on restaurant menus. Nevertheless, despite all the goodness, the chefs have their work cut out in the preparation to enjoy a mackerel’s creamy meat;  the chefs have to remove a lot of the fat, and that takes marinating, grilling or hot or cold-smoking,

You can become a mackerel fisherman at age 5.
Lisette – A young or small mackerel from off Northern France’s Atlantic coast.  These young mackerels are also called the Maquereau de Dieppe, the Dieppe mackerel. Dieppe is a large port and fishing port in the department of Seine-Maritime in the region of Normandie.  (As the crow flies Dieppe is closer to Brighton in the UK 139 km (86 miles) than it is to Paris by road 193 km (120 miles)).  As the young mackerel caught off the coast of Dieppe are considered to be tastier they have their own terroir of the sea and sell for more than young mackerel caught elsewhere. Lisettes will be prepared with their own unique Dieppoise recipes.

A school of lisettes.
Young mackerel from close to Dieppe, France.
Maquereau Blanc or Maquereau Espagnol Atlantique – Atlantic chubb mackerel. They are often sold as Spanish mackerel mostly because of misidentification or lack of knowledge. The real claimant to the name “Spanish Mackerel” is not found in the Atlantic nor even off the shores of Spain. The other important mackerel in the Mediterranean is the Atlantic chubb mackerel, so be prepared for the occasional tasty confusion with no serious differences.
Nearly all mackerel in France restaurants will be prepared using one of the methods that I set out below according to my understanding of their popularity based on recent restaurant menus. Menu listings include smoking (both hot and cold-smoking), marinating, grilling, pan-frying, salads, escabèche, and pates; baking and poaching are out there but seen less often.
 Mackerel on French Menus
Maquereau Fumé
Filet de Maquereau Fumé aux Câpres et Olives – Smoked mackerel served with capers and olives.
Filet de Maquereau Fumé et Grillé Sur Une Salade de Fenouil A mackerel filet smoked and then grilled and served on a salad of fennel` which has a light aniseed flavor.
Mariné – Marinated.
Maquereau Mariné, Petits Légumes, Sauce Vierge – Marinated mackerel served with young, small vegetables and a Sauce Vierge.   A Sauce Vierge translates as a virgin sauce with the name coming from the use of virgin olive oil. None of the sauce’s ingredients are cooked, and apart from the virgin olive oil, it includes fresh tomatoes, garlic, lemon juice, basil, red wine vinegar, salt and black pepper. The sauce will be served slightly warm but not cooked as a virgin olive oil loses all of its flavor when cooked. The sauce will be poured on the fish just before it is served.
Filet de Maquereau Mariné aux Agrumes et à l’Estragon – A mackerel filet marinated with grapefruit and flavored with tarragon.
Maquereau au Vin Blanc –  This is a classic mackerel marinade, it is made with white wine and wine vinegar, flavored with clovesthyme, bay leaves and black pepper.

Maquereau au Vin Blanc
Mackerel filets marinated in white wine.
Maquereaux Grillés – Grilled mackerel.
Les Filets de Maquereaux Grillés, Petit Risotto de Fruits de Mer  – Grilled mackerel filets served with a small seafood risotto.
Maquereaux Grillés Marmelade de Fenouil au Citron Vert, Ratatouille – Grilled mackerel served with a jam made of fennel and lime accompanied by a small serving of ratatouille.
Filets de Maquereaux Grillés à La Plancha, Crème de Piquillos  – Mackerel filets grilled on the plancha and served with a cream of piquillos.  The Plancha or Planxa is a solid, thick, flat sheet metal used for used for cooking in the Pays Basque, the Basque country, and elsewhere in southern France. The metal sheet’s thickness allows for a very even distribution of heat, and with the use of very little oil it achieves a taste somewhere between grilling and frying; the Basques claim ownership of the idea as do the Spanish. The piquillo is a marinated sweet pepper, and here it will have been skinned and used to make a cream sauce whose taste will complement the grilled mackerel.

Grilled Atlantic mackerel.
Maquereau Poêlé – Fried mackerel.
Filet de Maquereau Poêlé, Aubergines Marinées aux Anchois, Vinaigrette au Vinaigre de Balsamique – Lightly fried mackerel served with aubergines (eggplants) marinated with anchovies and a balsamic vinegar vinaigrette.
Maquereaux Poêlés Croustillants, Betteraves Acidulées, Tomme Blanche Légère Et Framboises –  Crisply fried mackerel served with pickled beetroot, and a white fresh farm cheese with raspberries.

Fried filets of mackerel with baby leeks.
Salades – Salads.
Salade de Pâtes Riso au Maquereau – A salad of rice-shaped, and rice sized, pasta with mackerel. 
Do not be surprised to see many different types of Italian pasta in French dishes.  The Italian culinary influence in France began with the marriage of Catherine Medici to the future King Henry II of France in 1533 and continued when the city of Nice on France’s Mediterranean coast and the two departments of Savoie in France’s north-east that were part of Italy became part of France 150 years ago.
Salade de Pommes de Terre à l‘Aneth et Filets de Maquereau Fumé – A potato salad flavored with dill and served with smoked mackerel.
Escabèche – Escabèche
Escabèche is a marinated fish and shellfish dish of South American, probably Peruvian origin; it is served cold. Most versions are made with marinated raw fish or shellfish; however, some versions use smoked fish or shellfish, and I have also seen a marinated vegetarian offering.
Maquereau à l’Escabéche, Pickles et Agrumes – Marinated mackerel served with pickles, cornichons, olives, lightly pickled pearl onions and citrus fruits.
Maquereaux a l’Escabèche, Compotée D’oignons Caramelisés au Gingembre  – Marinated mackerel accompanied by an onion jam caramelized with ginger.

Escabèche de maquereaux
Rillettes – Pates or terrines.
Rillettes may be made with fish, poultry or pork, cooked until it is spreadable like a smooth pate or terrine. Fish and seafood rillettes are available in Charcuterie-Traiteurs, France’s super delis. When I visited a friend for an evening apéro, drinks and snacks (not dinner), he and his wife served a fabulous mackerel rillette along with cornichons, olives and pearl onions, a fresh baguette and an excellent dry white wine.  With the sun setting behind the trees it was a little dose of mackerel heaven.
Rillettes de Maquereaux, Pain Grille – Mackerel rillettes and toast.  On a French menu, Pain Grille means toast and toast also means toast.  When William the Conqueror invaded England in 1066, he and his barons brought the French connection to the English kitchen. One of the words they brought was toster, a word used for certain grilled dishes, then a few hundred years later the French took the Anglicized word toast back to France and use it with its modern English meaning. Today, in France, the word toast is used just as often as the original French name for toasted bread, pain grille.
Rillettes de Maquereau Vinaigrette au Pistou Mackerel rillets with a pistou vinaigrette sauce.  Pestou is the French take on the Italian pesto sauce and it was here the French began to use finely crushed basil, the herb.  For French Pestou or Italian Pesto to the crushed sweet basil leaves are added garlic, salt, pepper, an excellent virgin olive oil, pine nuts, and Parmesan cheese as an optional extra.

Herring Rillettes
Maquereau au Four and  Maquereau Poché
Maquereau au Four, Baked mackerel, and Maquereau Poché, Poached mackerel, are traditional mackerel dishes and will be on some French restaurant menus though they are not as popular as the menu listings above.  
Mackerel and taste.
Some people say they do not like mackerel claiming that it has a fishy taste. The popular cooking methods remove most of the oil and leave a fresh mackerel taste, and that is as it should be; that’s why people like mackerel. Mackerel shouldn’t need a sauce so that it tastes like something. Many fish are caught far too young when their taste has not yet developed or are fish-farmed for speedy growth and not taste. Today there are beef and lamb dishes that when covered with sauce cannot be identified in a blind tasting one from the other, even the differences in texture have melted away. Some restaurants have become famous for their spicy sauces, but pouring too spicy a sauce over food obscures all the separate levels of flavor. If the sauce is spicy enough, a diner’s taste buds then also cannot identify whatever follows; and there is no point in ordering a particular beer or a vintage wine. The beauty of modern French cuisine including most fusion dishes is that each component can be tasted, while their texture and often their color may be enjoyed as well. Then the wines, beers or ciders that accompany the dish may also be appreciated. And so back to mackerel, enjoy its fresh fishy taste.
The sizes, weights, and colors of fresh mackerel.
When you see fresh mackerel in a fishmonger or a supermarket their distinctly patterned sides immediately identify them. They will be anywhere from 25 – 35cm (10 -14”)  inches long and most are under 500 grams (1.1lbs) in weight though they can be much larger,. They travel in schools that contain many thousands of fish, but still, these easy catches are becoming more difficult as overfishing takes its toll. 
Jack mackerel and horse mackerel.
Two other types of mackerel may be on French menus:
Chinchard dos vert Jack mackerel. This or another close family member is the mackerel in most of the imported canned mackerel tins on French supermarket shelves; it is not seen in the Atlantic or in the Mediterranean.
Saurel or Chinchard – This is the Mediterranean horse mackerel that mostly is bought by restaurants to add flavor to fish soups and does not appear on their menus. Nevertheless, this fish does have its admirers and it will be on the menu in many of France’s excellent French – Japanese restaurants, including those with Michelin stars. There horse mackerel will be on the menu as Aji or Maaji sushi or sashimi.
Maquereau – The Atlantic mackerel in the languages of France’s neighbors:
(Catalan – verat ), ( Dutch – makreel ), German – makrelen), (Italian -maccarello), (Spanish- caballa),   (Latin – scomber scombrus).
Maquereau Blanc, Maquereau Espagnol Atlantique – The Atlantic chubb mackerel in the languages of France’s neighbors:
(Catalan – betautxe),  (German – mittelmeermakrele ). (Italian –  lanzardo), ( Spanish – estornino del Atlántico  ), (Latin – scomber colias )
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Bryan G Newman
Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2018.
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