Mackerel Stuffed with Nuts and Spices

Uskumru dolması


Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Serves


Appears in

Classic Turkish Cooking

By Ghillie Basan

Published 1995

  • About

An impressive legacy of the lavish feasts produced in the Ottoman kitchens, uskumru dolması is still one of Istanbul’s most inspired dishes. The whole mackerel is emptied of its flesh, which is cooked with nuts and spices and then stuffed hack into its skin. The end result is quite magnificent, and incredibly satisfying. It is fairly rich, and the addition of ginger to the spice mix, although not traditionally Turkish, gives it an interesting kick.


  • 1 large whole mackerel
  • 2 onions
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, crushed with salt
  • 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon pine nuts
  • 2 oz/60 g almonds, finely chopped
  • 2 oz/60 g hazelnuts, finely chopped
  • 2 oz/60 g walnuts, finely chopped
  • 6 dried apricots, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon currants, soaked in water
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon kırmızı biber
  • small bunch of fresh parsley and dill, chopped
  • juice of ½ lemon
  • salt and black pepper


  • Take the mackerel and, using a sharp knife, cut into the flesh just below the gills on the underside, as if to sever the head. Make sure the head remains attached to the backbone. Push your fingers down into the body and remove the guts. Rinse the fish inside and out under running cold water.
  • Take a heavy mallet and gently bash the fish up and down the body on both sides, to soften the flesh and smash the backbone. Then massage and pummel the skin with your hands, loosening the flesh all the time. Be careful not to rip the skin.
  • Squeeze from the tail end, gradually working your way up the fish as if you were trying to force the last out of an empty tube of toothpaste, to spew the mashed flesh out of the opening. Reach inside to extract the bits of backbone, and remove any small bones from the (surprisingly small) pile of flesh. After you have made sure that there is nothing left to squeeze out, once more rinse the empty mackerel inside and out. Put aside.
  • Soften the onions and garlic in the oil. Add the nuts and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add the currants, apricots and spices and toss the fish flesh in the mixture until it is cooked. Stir in the fresh herbs, moisten with the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Leave to cool.
  • Now hold the empty mackerel upright in one hand and pack the stuffing through the opening, shaking the mackerel to sink the mixture into the tail. As the cavity fills squeeze downwards, toothpaste-tube style, to ensure the stuffing is compact. Use your finger to keep pushing and stuffing, until the mackerel resembles its former self. (If there is any stuffing left over, stir in a little beaten egg and mould into mini-köfte. Toss them in flour and fry them up to serve with the mackerel.)
  • The stuffed mackerel can be either rolled in flour and fried, or grilled. As few pans are big enough to fit the whole fish, a hot charcoal grill is preferable. Cook for 2-3 minutes each side to buckle and brown the skin.
  • Cut into thick slices and serve with wedges of lemon.