Karl’s Tapas: Caballa Frita Rellena (Fried Stuffed Mackerel)

Adapted from Food and Wine recipe

I am making a Spanish tapas dinner for this Sunday. There is a whole selection of fish tapas, many of which involve whole fried small fish. I had wanted to have fried anchovies or sardines, but El Niño had caused a collapse in the local fish supply.

Karl’s Tapas: Caballa Frita Rellena (Fried Stuffed Mackerel)

Karl’s Tapas
Caballa Frita Rellena
Fried Stuffed Mackerel

I had to settle for some small mackerels from L & F Fish Market—a local Portuguese fish market. Supermarkets—in my area—usually sell only those fish that most Americans are willing to eat. If you want anything out of the ordinary, like baby octopi or anchovies, your best bet is a good Asian or Iberian market, if there are any in your neighborhood.

Karl’s Tapas: Caballa Frita Rellena (Fried Stuffed Mackerel)


5-6 small mackerel
½ tsp. black pepper
½ tsp. Kosher salt


1 large green onion, minced
1 Tbs. flat-leafed parsley, minced
1 Tbs. Panko (bread crumbs)
2 Tbs. Serrano ham, finely chopped
1 Tbs. Semi-sweet Spanish sherry (Oloroso)
½ tsp. fennel seeds, ground

All-purpose flour, for dredging
(Optional) 1 large eggs, beaten with ½ Tbs. water
1 Tbs. to 1 cup Extra-virgin olive oil, for frying (See Note below)

1 Tbs. flat-leafed parsley leaves


1. Clean and butterfly the fish.

Tip: You may use any small fish that is available in your area.

Note: Run your knife along the belly of the fish and remove the offal. Slice along each side of the backbone from the heat to almost the end of the tail—be careful not to break the skin along the back of the fish. Break the spine near the tail of the fish and gently lift it up—hold the fingers of your other at the place where the spine is coming away from the flesh to prevent it from tearing as you lift. Pick out any rib or other bones that you see. If you are of a Western sensibility, you may remove the head and tail—I have spent too much time in Asia, I would never consider doing that.

2. Sprinkle the fish inside and out with pepper and salt.

3. In a small bowl, mix the green onions, parsley, bread crumbs, ham, sherry, and fennel.

4. Spread a rounded teaspoon of the filling on one side of the fish.

5. Close the up the fish, pressing the halves together firmly.

6. Repeat with the remaining fish and filling.

7. Spread flour in a shallow bowl and dredge each fish on both sides.

Note: The original recipe called for using an egg wash and then deep frying the fish in an inch of oil. with Jan’s dietary restrictions, I could not so that. Frying in a film of oil left the “breading” hard and gummy, rather that crisp and crunchy. Do not use the egg wash if you are not going to cook them in a lot of oil.

8. (Optional) Egg wash and dredge the fish in the flour to form a thick “breading.”

Note: Place the eggs in another shallow bowl and beat the water into the eggs. Dredge the fish in the flour and then dip them into the egg mixture to coat them thoroughly. Gently shake off any excess. Dredge the fish again in the flour and shake off any excess.

9. Put the oil in a large skillet, and heat it to shimmering.

Note: if you are doing low fat cooking add only one tablespoon of oil. If you are doing deep frying the fish add one cup of oil—this should make the oil ¼ of an inch deep in the pan.

10. Add as many fish as will fit comfortably in the pan without crowding.

11 . Fry the fish, over moderately high heat, until golden brown and crisp, about 2 minutes per side.

12. Drain the fish briefly on paper towels and transfer them to a plate.

Tip: Repeat as necessary with any remaining fish.

13. Garnish with parsley and serve warm.

1 Comment

Filed under Fish, Main Dishes, Seafood

One response to “Karl’s Tapas: Caballa Frita Rellena (Fried Stuffed Mackerel)

  1. Pingback: Karl’s Tapas Dinner | Jabberwocky Stew

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