Mackerel fishing, St Ives

Haul in your catch, then cook it on a beach barbecue – Julia gives a traditional summer picnic a mouth-watering twist


Stuart McClary has been fishing the Cornish waters around the beautiful port of St Ives since he was 16 and is happy to take people out with him to catch mackerel.
Any chef will tell you that hand-line caught mackerel is best of all. For starters, it’s a sustainable way of fishing, because you can only ever catch around 20-30 fish per line. But the fish don’t get bruised either, because they’re not hauled up in big, heavy nets.


Stuart knows every ebb and flow of the sea around St Ives, so we concentrated our fishing efforts in a well-known hot spot. Unfortunately, we picked up an unwelcome companion along the way – beautiful as they are, seals are a huge headache for fishermen, because they hang back from the boat and then chase any fish that your bright red feather lures attract. After a couple of hours of shifting around to escape our blubbery friend, we finally had some luck. Relief spread across Stuart’s face as he hauled in 20 or so mackerel – not a massive catch, but more than enough for me.

Cooking up a treat

Back on dry land, I shed the waterproofs and made a dash over to Porthminster beach clutching my tray of omega-3 packed fish to meet Mick and Zac, the chefs at Porthminster Café. This beachside eatery has racked up scores of awards and gained a fantastic reputation for fresh Cornish seafood.

The boys were waiting on the beach, knives at the ready, barbecue primed and banana leaves on stand-by. I have to explain that I don’t particularly like ‘fishy’ fish – and by that I mean oily, rich-tasting fish such as mackerel. Despite this, with knitted brows, the Australian chefs worked furiously to create a dish I would enjoy. “We’re gonna turn ya,” Mick promised. 

“I guarantee you’ll like it.” 

Once expertly boned and prepared, the spoils of the day were cooked for a mere four minutes on the barbie.

Taste sensation

Then came the moment of truth. I tucked into grilled mackerel with saffron and red onion jam (see recipe, right). Oh. My. Word. Despite my concerns, the fish was meaty, tasty and absolutely delectable. The flavours got on like long-lost friends and a convert was born. The cameras stopped rolling and the crew all plopped down on to the sand to take in the view and share in our delicious catch of the day.

Grilled mackerel with saffron and red onion jam

2 mackerel fillets
1 sprig of thyme
1 red onion
Pinch of saffron
1 tbsp toasted pine nuts
1 tsp sumac
1 lemon wedge
Mixed leaves
Cherry tomatoes
50ml (1¾ fl oz) olive oil
5ml (¼ fl oz) balsamic vinegar
Lemon vincotto
½ bulb of fennel
2 peeled, steamed new potatoes
2 mint leaves

Slice the red onion finely, place it in a pot with a drizzle of olive oil and cook slowly until the onion becomes soft. Add salt, pepper and a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar to taste, then cook until the vinegar has reduced. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
Place a large square of banana leaf or foil and fill it with the red onion jam, sliced new potatoes, thyme and saffron. Place the mackerel fillets
on top with the skin facing up, then wrap gently and cook on the barbecue for two minutes on each side.
Shave the fennel as finely as possible, then mix with the leaves, cucumber, red onion and tomatoes. Tear in some mint leaves at
the last second, then season with salt and pepper and dress with balsamic vinegar. 

Unwrap the banana leaf or foil, and place fish on a plate with the skin-side up. Serve with salad and then garnish the plate with pine nuts, sumac and lemon vincotto, and a slice of lemon.

Recipe courtesy of the Porthminster Café

Useful Information

St Ives is 30 miles south-west of Newquay. Turn off the A30 at Lelant and follow the A3074 into the centre.

St Ives Boats

07821 774178
Daily two-hour mackerel fishing trips in May-October, adults £15, children £10.

Porthminster Café

Porthminster Beach
TR26 2EB
01736 795352 This beach café has uninterrupted views over St Ives Bay and specialises in Mediterranean and Asian seafood dishes.

The Sloop Inn
TR26 1LP
01736 796584
Enjoy local crab in one of Cornwall’s oldest pubs

Boskerris Hotel

Boskerris Road, Carbis Bay
TR26 2NQ
01736 795295
A contemporary hotel above Carbis Bay beach.


St Ives Tourist Information Centre

The Guildhall, Stret-an-Pol
TR26 2DS
01736 796297