Friday, August 28, 2009

Bonito, Bonita, Little Tunny, False Albacore...whatever name you choose, we've been catching plenty! Which got us thinking...what does it taste like?

Bonito chunks for tuna salad...simmering away:

All these combined years of fishing and none of us had actually ever eaten Bonito. This fish suffers from the presumption, usually made by those who have never tried it or are put off by the dark color of its meat, that it is not good to eat. So, inspired by Andrew Zimmern, we decided to give it a try and ate Bonito as sashimi, ceviche, as a salad with mayonnaise and also cooked medium rare under the broiler with either Montreal Seasoning or mojo. And guess what...it tastes just like chicken! OK, that's a joke...it has a very mild flavor and velvety texture and was not at all what we thought it would be. It was not fishy or gamy in any way, it did not smell, it was not metallic or strong tasting, it was not dry, it was not oily, it was not mushy; however, it was somewhat darker in color than its other tuna and mackerel relatives.

The Bonito was filleted at the dock where it was skinned and the very wide center blood line and spine and bones were removed, leaving just the lighter colored tenderloins. And by lighter we mean ruby red, as compared to the black cherry red of the blood line. The sashimi was almost flavorless and was not as rich as other tuna sashimi. Our ceviche contained Vidalia onion, seeded cucumber, green pepper, seeded tomato, celery, mango, cilantro, scotch bonnet pepper, salt, pepper, lime juice and a splash of orange juice. As you can imagine, this concoction would make anything taste good and the Bonito was no exception...it was delicious with no disagreeable flavor whatsoever. The only downside here is that the fish, as it marinates, turns an unappealing shade of brownish-gray, as does the juice. They say the eye eats first, so this could be a problem for some. Our Bonito salad was equal in both taste and appearance to any other salad made with conventional canned tuna; you would never know the difference. We prepared this by simmering 1" Bonito chunks for 45 minutes in a pot of water, skimming the foam along the way. We cooled the chunks, now putty-colored on the outside and pale pink on the inside, flaked the fish, and continued with the usual preparation; mayo, onion, celery, salt, pepper, squeeze of lime. The Bonito was also tasty under the broiler and, as it turns out, didn't really require the additional seasoning. Cooked this way, the fish was dark tan with a rosy center. We did not conduct a side-by-side comparison with other types of tuna, but we found Bonito to be quite edible.

Chances are you will still want to catch and release this fish, but if you're curious and you find it fun and interesting to try different foods, or you just enjoy the satisfaction of eating what you catch, don't be afraid to check it out. One note of caution-please be aware that as with other Florida fish, as well as with other tunas in general, consumption should be limited due to the presence of mercury. And on that happy note, we can conclude from our experiment that not only is Bonito a powerful little torpedo of a fish that is fun to fight; it is also perfectly acceptable table fare.