Saturday, June 24, 2017


At my local fish market, I usually ignore the small fry, deeming them—except for fresh anchovies and sardines—too bony to be worth the bother. One of these is the jurel, also known as chicharro  (“horse mackerel” or “scad” in English).

But when I spied these larger specimens, impeccably fresh, I decided to give jureles a try. They were cheap enough and local women were buying them up. 

Jureles are horse mackerel.

Small jureles—about the size of sardines—are usually simply floured and fried. The village ladies who were buying the larger ones said they would prepare them al horno, baked with a layer of potatoes, onions, peppers and tomatoes. The vendor suggested escabeche. (See at the end of this post for links to those recipes.)

I bought two jureles, each weighing about 1 pound. The fish vendor cleaned them and removed the heads. The cleaned fish each weighed about 12 ounces. I figured on a whole one—on the bone—per person. Not everyone is willing to tackle a whole fish, but, with practice and some patience, it is a rewarding experience.

Looking for some guidance with a fish I hadn’t cooked before, I pulled out my reference books—Alan Davidson’s The Tio Pepe Guide to the Seafood of Spain and Portugal (Santana Books); Seafood, A Connoisseur’s Guide and Cookbook, by Alan Davidson with illustrations by Charlotte Knox (Mitchell Beazley), and Manual del Pescado by José Carlos Capel (R&B Ediciones).

All seemed to indicate that the horse mackerel, which belongs to the jack family, is not especially esteemed. The horse mackerel belongs to the fatty, bluefish group (presumably, that means healthful omega-3 fatty acids). It’s a silvery fish with a greenish-gold streak on its side, not to be confused with the true mackerel (caballa), a silvery-green fish with blue-black markings.

The Capel book suggested a recipe by Basque chef, José Castillo. I pulled out my battered copy of Manual de Cocina Económica Vasca (Manual of Economic Basque Cooking) by José Castillo (Editorial Icharopena; 1970) and found fully six recipes for chicharros!

I decided on fish roasted a la vizcaina, or Biscay style. This usually means the dish includes red choricero peppers, but in this recipe, pimentón (paprika) stands in for the peppers. In this case it is regular sweet pimentón, not smoked.

Whole fish are roasted with a topping of garlic, parsley, pimentón and crumbs.

For the fearless, not put off by bones--a whole fish.

Or, fillet the roasted fish in the kitchen and plate it for guests.

Horse Mackerel, Biscay Style
Chicharro a la Vizcaina

Any whole fish may be prepared in this manner. Try it with true mackerel (caballa), sea bass (lubina) or gilthead bream (dorada).

Chop garlic, parsley in mini-processor.
Serves 6 or more.

6 (1-pound each) horse mackerels, cleaned
Salt and pepper
12 tablespoons olive oil
12 (or more) cloves garlic
2/3 cup chopped parsley
4 tablespoons fine dry breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon pimentón (paprika)
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
½ cup white wine or dry cider
Lemon slices to serve

Cut two deep slits in the top of the fish. Sprinkle them with salt and pepper and allow to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Crumbs and pimentón to parsley.
Finely chop the garlic and parsley in a mini-processor. Place in a small bowl and add the breadcrumbs, pimentón and lemon zest.

Preheat oven to 475ºF.

Oil a shallow roasting pan or baking sheet and place the fish in it. Pour half of the oil over the fish. Spread the garlic-parsley-crumb mixture on top of the fish. Drizzle the remaining oil over the fish.

Ready for the oven, with a topping of parsley, garlic, pimentón and crumbs.

Roast the fish for 10 minutes. Remove and pour the wine or cider over. Roast 10 minutes more. Serve with lemon slices. 

More fish recipes for using horse mackerel:


  1. If they're like bluefish, try smoking and serving with a mustard sauce.

    1. David: I bet that would be delicious. Actually, I've never smoked a fish.