Salt cured mackerel, if cured lightly, makes for a delicious snack or sandwich or as a part of an appetizer. In general, salt curing of meat and fish goes back many centuries when there was no refrigeration and salting was the only way to keep proteins stored (sometimes in combination with drying).

Salt curing is especially suitable for oily fish and other examples are herring, anchovies and sardines. This recipe was developed in Hong Kong where I was craving for these delectful  ‘maatjes’ herring, herring which is caught before they become fertile again, have a lot of fat and then salt cured. Unfortunately, these are only flown into Hong Kong on special request. 

The art of making salt cured mackerel

Regarding to the salt cured herring: after freezing the freshly caught fish for a day to kill any parasites,  the guts are removed, except for the pancreas which provides for good ripening during a salt cure of a half to 4 days maximum. Horse mackerel in frozen form is abundantly and cheaply available in Hong Kong. It is an underrated fish. It has a similar size as herring.  I experimented with the salting time for gutted and de-headed horse mackerel halves. I found 4 h salting with rock or coarse sea salt providing the best taste after a quick rinse with water.

Lightly salt cured mackerel approaches the taste of salt cured and ripened herring when it is fatty enough. The cured mackerel can be stored for one or two days in the refrigerator, but the taste is best within a few hours after the salting. After the salting and water rinse, dry, take the skin off and de-bone the fish with tweezers. Then slice and store cool until serving. 

Special equipment

  • 3 pairs of chopsticks
  • pair of tweezers
salt cured mackerel ©️ Nel Brouwer-van den Bergh

Salt cured mackerel

Prep Time 4 hours
30 minutes
Total Time 4 hours 30 minutes
Course Appetizer, Side Dish, Snack
Cuisine Dutch
Servings 8 persons



  • 4 halve horse mackerels
  • 10 oz (300 g) coarse rock- or sea salt



  • Quickly rinse the mackerel halves under running water. Let drip and dry with a paper towel
  • Place the halves on the chopsticks spanning a deep plate or bowl
  • Cover the fish with solid salt; the turn and cover the other side in salt
  • Let the fish halves sit for 4 h. Ambient temperature is fine.
    brined mackerel halves on chopsticks over bowl photo: ©️Nel Brouwer-van den Bergh
  • After 4 h, give the fish halves a good rinse under running water. Let drip and dry on a paper towel
  • Place the halves skin side up on a cutting board
  • With tweezers remove the skin from the fish
    removing upper skin of a mackerel photo: ©️Nel Brouwer-van den Bergh
  • Thereafter turn the fish skin side down
  • Remove the pin bones by feeling with your fingers and remove fins and other cartilage
  • Finally, slice the fish in bite size pieces and serve


Method: salt curing
Food allergy & intolerance information: fish
Keyword horse mackerel, mackerel, salt curing, salted


  1.  Use liberal amounts of salt and cover all parts of the fish.

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