Mackerel ‘in Saor’ (Sgombro in Saor)

A classic and delicious dish from Venice is pesce in saôr, which does not mean ‘sour’ fish but ‘flavored’ fish (saôr comes from ‘sapore’). The recipe was invented in Venice as a way to preserve fish, and even though we have refrigerators nowadays we still make it because it is so tasty!

In the traditional recipe, white fish is dredged in flour, fried in oil, and then marinated in sautéed onions with white wine, vinegar, raisins, pine nuts, and cinnamon. I posted a lighter version with mackerel cooked sous vide 10 years ago in this post. When you use white fish, the subtle flavor of the fish will be overpowered by the marinade. Mackerel has a nice but stronger taste that you can still taste. The creaminess of the mackerel goes well with the sweet & sour marinade.

Now I have developed an easier method without using sous vide, that gives almost the same result: cook the mackerel in the residual heat of the marinade, rather than cooking the mackerel sous vide and then putting it in a cold marinade. The only other change I’ve made to my recipe from 10 years ago is that I have reduced the amount of vinegar, and improved the plating.


For 4 servings

  • Fillets of 2 fresh mackerels, about 400 grams (0.9 lbs) [Ask your fishmonger to fillet the mackerel and to remove the skin.]
  • 2 large onions, halved and sliced
  • 300 ml (1 1/4 cup) dry white wine
  • 80 ml (1/3 cup) good quality white wine vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 40 grams (4 Tbsp) white raisins
  • 20 grams (2 Tbsp) pine nuts
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • salt and freshly ground white pepper
  • 1 Tbsp minced fresh flat leaf parsley


Season the mackerel with salt on both sides.

Then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate while you prepare the marinade. Salting the mackerel before will allow the salt to penetrate into the fish, which will improve both flavor and texture.

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan. The frying pan should have the right size for the mackerel fillets in a single layer. Add 2 sliced onions and season with salt. The salt will draw out some liquid, helping to soften the onions.

Stir the onions over medium heat until they are soft and golden. They should not remain crunchy and should not become crispy or brown. This will take about half an hour and regular stirring (doesn’t have to be constantly, but at least every few minutes).

In the meantime, toast 20 grams of pine nuts in the oven for about 8 minutes at 180C/350F. You can also toast them in a dry frying pan, but that takes constant stirring to toast them evenly.

When the onions are soft and golden, deglaze with 300 ml dry white wine.

Bring the wine to a boil, and add a bay leaf, the pine nuts, and 40 grams of white raisins.

Add 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon…

…and 80 ml white wine vinegar.

Simmer the marinade…

…until the liquid has been reduced by half.

In the meantime, remove the central bones from the mackerel, by cutting along the bones on both sides. You will end up with thin strips of flesh with bones in them, which you discard.

When the marinade is done, turn off the heat and transfer the contents of the pan to a bowl (I used a large glass measuring cup). Arrange the mackerel in a single layer on the bottom of the pan, which is still warm.

Pour the hot marinade over the fish.

Distribute the onions, such that all of the fish is covered. Press down on the fish with a spatula as needed to submerge it as much as possible. Allow the residual heat of the marinade to cook the fish.

After 3-4 minutes, turn the fish around to make sure it is cooked evenly. It is not a problem if the fish breaks up into large pieces, as you will have to break it up in the next step anyway.

Next allow the fish to cool to room temperature, uncovered, and then cover it up and refrigerate it to cool completely.

About half an hour before serving, take the fish out of the refrigerator and plate it. Place a metal food ring with a diameter of 8 centimeters (3 inches) on each plate. Break the fish up into chunks and divide them equally among the rings, pressing down with a spoon to flatten the layer of fish inside each ring. Discard the bay leaf.

Next, spoon the marinade on top of the fish, including all of the liquid.

And finally, sprinkle with the parsley.

Carry the plates to the table with the rings, then remove the rings.

Wine pairing

The dish is slightly sweet from the raisins, as nice acidity from the vinegar, and the mackerel is creamy. We enjoyed it with an oak-aged Pinot Gris from the Netherlands (Apostelhoeve), that has higher acidity than Pinot Gris usually has. A more easily available choice would be a German Riesling that is very slightly off dry (but still ‘Trocken’) and creamy, so a dry Spätlese or Auslese.


8 thoughts on “Mackerel ‘in Saor’ (Sgombro in Saor)

  1. Am so, so glad to have such a beautiful recipe for ‘skumbria’ as it is known back in my birth country ! Grew up on a simpler variation which methinks omitted the pine nuts and was rather heavy on the vinegar and bay leaf . . . ! You have served this beautifully . . . Actually I do have some local Pinot Gris available . . . ha ! . . . it has been awhile since I could afford an Auslese !!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The plating is beautiful; do you carry the plates to the table with the rings on because it would topple over otherwise? I only have one ring so I’d have to do it individually. Nevertheless, I think I’ll give this a try over the holidays. Do you think salmon would work?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I carried them with the rings to reduce the risk of toppling over, but I carried the plate I photographed without the ring and that went just fine. I think it would work with salmon, too, if cut in such a way that the thickness is like half a centimeter or 1/4 inch.

      Liked by 1 person

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