Scad (Trachurus trachurus), also known as: Horse Mackerel or Atlantic Horse Mackerel is up to 18ins in length and 3lb in weight, although fish caught off the UK shore usually weigh 1lb and are under 12ins in length. The mackerel scad’s range covers most of the world. They have been found off Nova Scotia, Bermuda and Rio de Janeiro, St. Helena, Ascension Island and the Azores, Madeira, South Africa, the Seychelles and Sri Lanka, California and Ecuador. Scad is native to the Atlantic, the Mediterranean Black Sea and Pacific. They prefer clear water, and are frequently found around islands.
Scads have large eyes and heads that are approximately one quarter of their total length. A distinguishing feature is the row of raised hooked scales, called scutes, along the lateral line, which slopes down toward the anal opening, behind which is a pair of sharp spines. The scutes become more prominent, hard and spiny towards the tail. When freshly caught the upper part of the body and head are dark grey-blue with greenish tints; the lower part of the body and head are silvery white with a metallic violet gleam; the belly is white. A dark spot on the edge of the gill cover is another distinctive feature. They have two dorsal fins, the first of which is tall and spiny, the second longer and flatter, and an anal fin. Their tail is deeply forked and they have an unusual scaly lateral line which runs all the way from the tail to the gills and curves upwards over the large pectoral fin. They are distinguishable by a small, detached fin, located between the dorsal and caudal fins. Mackerel scad have 9 spines and 31-36 rays on their dorsal fins, while there are seven spines and 27-30 rays on their anal fins. Mackerel scad’s caudal fins have been described as red to yellow-green.
Found throughout the UK in summer months, scad are more common around the south and west coasts than elsewhere, but there is an entirely separate population that migrates from Scandinavia to the coast of Scotland during the summer months. Scad is always found in large shoals. Scad are not actually related to mackerel, despite their alternative name which comes from the untrue belief that other small species of fish would hitch a ride on the back of scad as they swam through the sea. Scad can be found at all water levels. They hunt near the surface for small fish but will also do so around the seabed for anything they can find there; it is thought that crustaceans make up a large proportion of their diet. Scad can also filter feed on plankton. Scad inhabit fairly deep water for most of the year but come into shallower water, and within the range of the` shore in the warm summer months. They tend to feed more when the sun sets, spending the day nearer the seabed.
Scad can be fried or baked. It is also used in frozen food products. Most of the scad caught in UK waters is exported abroad to continental Europe where scad is much more popular to cook. Scad is vastly important around Africa as it it forms part of the staple diet for millions of people. This species is also used in preparing the Japanese snack Kusay, a traditional product of the Izu Islands. Special care must be taken in handling scad to avoid injury from the scutes and the sharp spines. Gloves cannot afford complete protection.
- 4 medium round scad, cleaned and salted
- 4 green chilli peppers, pierced
- 1 can of coconut milk
- 1 inch of fresh ginger, sliced into strips
- A few drops of fish sauce
- A large pinch of freshly ground black pepper
- A red onion, finely sliced
- 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped.
Pour the coconut milk into a wide heavy based pan and bring to the boil. Add the garlic, ginger, onion, fish sauce, and ground black pepper. Stir before covering and allowing to cook for a few minutes. Place the scad in the cooking pot together with the chillies and simmer with a lid on for 25 minutes. Just before the cooking time is up, remove the lid and allow the sauce to reduce slightly. Serve on a platter with with warm rice.