(Trachurus trachurus): WILD CAUGHT
SO NAMED FOR THE LEGEND THAT THIS FISH WAS SO SUCH A VIRILE SWIMMER THAT SMALLER FISH COULD RIDE ON ITS BACK LIKE A HORSE, the Atlantic Horse Mackerel belongs to the jack mackerel family and is an abundant catch off the central coast of Portugal. Found in the north-eastern Atlantic, Mediterranean and Black Seas, and as far as Senegal, it is known to the Portuguese as the chicharro – although to some know it as the scad and saurel. To the Japanese (whose local horse mackerel is Trachurus japonicus), it is known as aji, and is a popular sushi fish, admired for its pronounced flavor, abundance and low price.
Like the Atlantic Mackerel found off U.S. waters, the Horse Mackerel schools in large numbers along coastlines, feeding on squid, crustaceans and other fishes. A powerful predatory and swimmer, it is a stunning fish to the eye, bearing brilliant metallic greenish-blue lines along its silvery sides. They have a large head and wide eyes, few bones to contend with but heavy bony scales along their lateral line.
Horse Mackerel flesh is quite oily (although somewhat less so than the common Atlantic Mackerel), leading to a short shelf life once landed. This makes freshness an absolute imperative when purchasing. It is firm, making it ideal for the grill – the Japanese like to salt and grill them whole, called aji no shioyaki. Its rich flavor is also a favorite served raw as sushi and sashimi, or cured as escabeche with either citrus or vinegar to bring down the natural acidity of the fish. They can be baked whole, pan-fried as fillets (the skin crisps nicely) or dipped in flour and fried. The oil content also makes it excellent for smoking or barbeque. Horse Mackerel range in size from about 1 to 2 pounds each.
Catch Region: Coastal Portugal
Seasonality: Year Round; Preferred in Fall-Spring
Catch Method: Net
Yield (Fillet Percentage): 46-50 %
Flavor Profile: Strong but not overpowering; oily
Texture Profile: Firm, medium flake