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Favorite Kingfish Recipes

Terry Lacoss

Catching a SKA tournament winning king mackerel requires a lot of hard work and fishing skills.  Knowing how to prepare and cook your catch requires certain skills too!


Many king mackerel fishermen prefer to eat their fish the same day they are caught. Fish are never frozen, while only enough fish are kept during their day of fishing that can be eaten within a few hours, or the next day. Taken up the occupation of a fishing charter captain for the past 30-years, I have the luxury of being able to eat freshly caught fish just about anytime I wish.

Unfortunately some fishermen do not enjoy eating their catch, they just like to catch them! While in many cases, the fisherman may have tasted a bad piece of fish several fishing seasons ago and has etched in their mind that all fish taste bad. If you get a bad oyster in your mouth, it’s the worst taste imaginable. Don’t continue to eat the bad oyster, thinking the taste will go away, spit it out. The same with eating a piece of bad fish, don’t eat it!

Mary and me were once eating in a well recommended Key West seafood restaurant where the special of the day was fresh red snapper. Naturally Mary ordered her typical steak and I ordered the grilled snapper. Once the waitress had placed my plate of grilled red snapper on our table, I immediately began to detect that the snapper was not fresh by the smell. My first taste of the snapper was simply terrible, so I called the waitress and explained to her that the fish was not fresh. She went back into the kitchen to discuss the problem with the cook and soon returned.

“The cook said that the snapper is fresh and that it was just delivered to our restaurant today”, the waitress remarked.

I then replied, “I don’t disagree that the fish wasn’t delivered to you earlier today. The problem is, the snapper wasn’t caught today and probably within the last few weeks!”

With this in mind, king mackerel is best when eaten ultra fresh. While some fishermen freeze their king mackerel fillets in vacuum freezer bags and eat the mackerel within the next few months. Most seafood lovers prefer eating their king mackerel within a few days after being caught.

King mackerel are an oily fish, have a grayish meat and a large bloodline, both make good sense why mackerel loses its flavor when it is frozen, or not eaten within a few days of being caught.

The larger king mackerel, 15-50 pounds have a stronger taste, while king mackerel weighing less than 15-pounds offer excellent eating. So if you have a choice when fishing in a massive school of king mackerel, keep the smaller ones for eating and let the larger ones go. I also recommend taking the time to bleed your king mackerel while the mackerel is still in the water. Take a long bladed fillet knife and slit the mackerel just behind the gill, on either side of the fish. While holding the mackerel in the water, the blood will pump out of the meat and into the water, leaving the meat a white color and blood free. Next, slit the mackerel’s belly and remove all of the stomach organs.

Finally place the king mackerel in a fish bag which is halfway full of semi melted ice. The slurry of ice will keep your king mackerel ultra fresh. A major mistake many saltwater fishermen make, is placing their fish in a large cooler that has just a couple of bags of ice on the bottom. Fish placed on top of the ice, begin to deteriorate with the lack of proper care.

There are two popular ways to clean king mackerel, which in both cases, requires a sharp, long bladed fillet knife. If you are a charter captain like myself, it always impresses your customers when using a high quality fillet knife and having a sharpening stone on hand. Before cleaning your king mackerel, sharpen the blade of your fillet knife and wipe the blade with a clean cloth. A clean, sharp fillet knife is a good beginning to enjoying your king mackerel seafood dinner. Always wear a fish-cleaning glove on the hand that you are holding the fish with. This will avoid any mistakes made by the hand holding the knife!

King mackerel can be cut up into steaks or, filleted. To fillet the mackerel first make a cut just behind the top of the head with the mackerel belly down on the cleaning table. Continue to make the cut back towards the tail of the mackerel while keeping the knife blade close to spine bones of the fish. Once you have reached the back portion of the rib cage, slide your knife just behind the rib cage and cut the remaining fish fillet from the mackerel. Next, place your knife just behind the gill of the king mackerel and while cutting back towards the tail, cut through the rib cage and remove the entire fillet from the mackerel. Lay the entire fillet skin down on the cleaning table and cut the bloodline and ribcage out of the mackerel. Whether you choose to grill, fry, blacken or bake your king mackerel, the bloodline is a seasoning you don’t wish to use!

If the king mackerel fillet is fairly large, you may wish to cut the fillet into appropriate proportions, while leaving the skin on for grilling.

Fish lovers also prefer to cut their king mackerel into steaks. Here a large “Butcher’s” knife is preferred that has a sharp, sturdy blade. Once again the mackerel is placed belly down on the cleaning table where the cut is made from the back to the belly of the fish into 1-inch steaks.

Another critical mistake that I often see fishermen making, is piling their king mackerel up on the cleaning table where they begin to spoil with the hot summer weather. Leave your mackerel in the fish bag, or cooler and clean them one at a time. Once a king mackerel is cleaned, wash the fillet with clean water and place in a freezer bag with ice.

By far king mackerel are best when grilled. Place the entire fillet of king mackerel (skin on) in a bag, with plenty of Zesty Italian salad dressing added. Marinate the mackerel for at least 45-minutes before grilling. Preheat the grill to a medium temperature. Place a large piece of aluminum foil on the grill so that the skin of the mackerel will not stick to the grill. The marinated mackerel fillet is then placed on the aluminum foil and seasoned with seasoning salts. Slices of lemon are also placed on top of mackerel fillet and the lid is then closed. Grill the mackerel from 15-20 minutes, or until the meat is white in color when the fillet is separated with a fork. Remove the entire mackerel and aluminum off from the grill and cut the fish into appropriate proportions. Umm-umm good!

Small chunks of freshly caught king mackerel offers excellent eating when deep fried in hot peanut oil as well. Place the small chunks of mackerel in a bag with flour, salt and pepper added, then shake. Place the chunks of mackerel in the hot peanut oil and fry until golden brown. For those who prefer a more heavily battered fried fish, mix one egg and one cup of milk in a bowl. Place the chunks of king mackerel into the bowl and stir until they are completely coated with the milk and egg mixture. Next place the chunks of mackerel in a bag of flour, with salt and pepper added, then shake. Here, it is very important to heat peanut oil to a high temperature before placing the mackerel into the oil. To make sure the oil is hot enough, first drop a small piece of fish into the oil. If the fish begins to snap, crackle and pop, the oil is hot enough!

Fry the mackerel until the chunks of fish are browned and begin to float on the top. Place the pieces of fried mackerel on paper towels allowing the access oil to drain off from the fried fish. Eat hot and enjoy!

Fish lovers must also be aware of the dangers of eating fish that contain mercury. While king mackerel have a relatively small stomach, they are constantly eating a variety of finfish that possibly have high levels of mercury. Mercury is carried by winds containing emissions by polluters, such as coal fired power plants and believed to be in fresh and saltwater waterways. Be sure and check on the portions of king mackerel that are safe to eat that are recommended where you live and fish. Obviously the smaller king mackerel measuring less than 30-inches, are safer to eat than the larger kings.

Finally, if you wish to purchase your king mackerel from a local seafood market, take a close look at the eyes and make sure that they are clear. Glazed kingfish eyes are a sure sign that the mackerel is not fresh. Smell the fillet and if it has a fishy smell, it is not fresh as well. Fresh fish does not have a fish smell!
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