Holy Mackerel Cakes


I recently devoured Chris Kresser’s new book Your Personal Paleo Code (full review coming soon). What I loved about Chris’s book is that after he explains the basic paleo framework, he offers suggestions for how to tweak it, based on specific needs, including three of my personal concerns: high blood pressure, weight loss, and thyroid challenges.

One of his suggestions was that I eat more cold water, fatty fish. Sure, one could go directly to salmon, but he also tossed out the option of mackerel — which made me realize that I’d never eaten mackerel.

How is it possible that I’m 45 years old and have never even tried a bite of mackerel?

The only option was to catch that fish, do some research, and experiment with a recipe. Plus, how could I resist repeated use of the phrase Holy mackerel?! Here’s what I learned about this silvery fish:

  • It has firm, moist flesh — more meaty than flaky.
  • It’s super affordable. My can of mackerel cost a whopping $1.79.
  • It’s an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, and selenium.
  • It has a strong-ish flavor. It’s not overly fishy, but it requires a spicy treatment that can hold its own. This is not a fish that invites a light lemon-and-herb treatment.
  • It’s got history! Romans used mackerel to make garum, a fermented fish sauce that’s similar to the condiment used in Thai and Vietnamese cooking. (Hello, Red Boat!)


Holy Mackerel Cakes

I didn’t add any almond flour as a filler to these because I’m trying to minimize my nut consumption. That means they’re a bit more dense than they would be with a filler. If you are open to nuttiness, add 1/2 cup almond flour, and if you want to add more veggies, you could add a 1/2 to 1 cup riced cauliflower, instead. Warning: These are not quite as sexy as the salmon cakes in Well Fed 2, but they are tasty enough for me to share. And I’m pretty excited about this new way to get omega-3s.

Makes 8 cakes | Prep 15 minutes | Cook 30 minutes

1 (15 ounce) can wild-caught mackerel
1 cup boiled or roasted white potato, mashed
2 large eggs, beaten
1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves, minced (about 2 tablespoons)
2 scallions, white and green, very thinly sliced
1/2 tablespoon Old Bay Seasoning
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon hot sauce
1/2 teaspoon paprika (I used smoked.)
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
zest from 1 lemon
2 tablespoons ghee or coconut oil, melted

1. Preheat the oven to 425F and cover a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Drain the liquid from the mackerel and using your fingers, crumble the fish into a large mixing bowl, removing any large and/or sharp bones. Flake the fish with your fingers. Add the potato, eggs, parsley, scallions, Old Bay Seasoning, salt, hot pepper sauce, paprika, black pepper, and lemon zest. Mix well and refrigerate for 10 minutes.

3. Brush the parchment paper with some of the melted ghee, then use a 1/3 measuring cup to scoop the cakes and drop them onto the parchment. The patties should be about 2 1/2 inches wide and about 1 inch thick. Brush the tops of the cakes with ghee, then bake for 20 minutes. Carefully flip each patty with a spatula and return to the oven. (Brush with more ghee if that tickles your fancy.) Bake an additional 10 minutes until golden brown and crisp. Serve with a squeeze of lemon juice and a little dollop of homemade mayo or your favorite sauce from Well Fed 2.

You Know How You Could Do That

This recipe is based on the Oven-Fried Salmon Cakes in Well Fed 2 with a few significant changes: white potato instead of sweet potatoes, no almond flour, and less salt. If you have the Well Fed 2 cookbook, you can try all the spice variations listed under “You Know How You Could Do That?” with mackerel, too — but I think sticking with white potato, rather than sweet, is the way to go with the mackerel. Somehow, sweet potato just doesn’t seem like a good match with the flavor of this fish.


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  • Oh huzzah! I adore mackerel. It’s a fish that really asserts itself, and I like that. In the summer, I buy the whole fish (also very cheap, although not $1.79 – that’s a steal!), slather it with mustard and mayo, stuff it with herbs, and throw it on the grill.

  • Cat says:

    I don’t need any more excuses to eat my beloved mackerel but these look like something I have to try!

  • jennifer reese says:

    Sushi is the only form in which I’ve eaten mackerel before and it didn’t appeal — seemed to be pickled and had skin. But this looks great. If I can find canned mackerel at the supermarket, I’m going to try it.

  • Terri W says:

    I’m doing the Whole30 now so white potatoes wouldn’t work for me; I’m going to try this one with parsnips. What do you think?

  • Twinkle says:

    I love mackerel, especially in sushi preparations (it’s usually prepared vinegared to cut the strong oily quality). I usually buy the tins of smoked mackerel for home consumption; it goes well with hot sauce or some strong mustard! Can’t wait to try these cakes out!

  • Tara Beirne says:

    If you like the tinned mackerel you’ll love fresh! It’s fantastic fresh just fried in the pan x

  • TDC says:

    I do the salmon oven cakes with tuna and they are absolutely divine. I do one tin of tuna for 2 small sweet potatoes. I’ve actually not made it with salmon because I don’t love tinned salmon and anyway the tuna ones were so fabulous (and cheaper!) I haven’t had a chance to try any other. They’re my go to post workout refuel. I’ll try these mackerel ones; we’ve recently decided to start eating a bit of white potato (how paleo is that that you have to clarify ‘white’ when talking about potatoes!!) now and then so perhaps this is a good one to start. Although I can imagine mackerel and sweet potato going quite well!

  • sue says:

    Having read your post and found a can of mackerel on sale at the store, my husband and I decided to go for it.
    Then I opened the can. And I thought, well, the cats would like it.
    Three fish bodies crammed in the can wasn’t what I had expected. But I decided not call the cats and to push on. Removed the large back bones, didn’t find any other objectionable bones, took off most of the skin, and went on with the recipe.
    Still wasn’t sure how these were going to do once they got to the table. I made some cocktail sauce (hubby’s favorite thing with any fish) from some of your kickass ketchup and served the cakes on a bed of salad greens with a dab of homemade mayo. Held my breath and took a bite. They were good!! So good that my husband ate up every last one. None left for tomorrow. Guess I’ll have to buy another can of mackerel. 🙂

    • Whew! I’m glad they were a hit. It’s always a little dicey when you first crack open the can of fish, no? But once it’s mixed with delicious things, it’s a treat. They are scary in the can, though. No lie.