Although not a common choice for American dinner tables, bonito fish is a delicious option in countries like the Black Sea and the northern Mediterranean.
What is Bonito?
The Bonito, a related tribe of fish from the family Scombridae includes the mackerels and tunas as well as the bonitos. Bonito come from many genera and can be found in various forms in all of the oceans and seas around the world. You can fish the American plain bonito, Orcynopsis unicolor, the Pacific bonito, and the eastern Pacific bonito.
Each species of this family has two distinct dorsal fins. They also have an extremely fast tail and a slim, streamlined body. A series of finlets will also be visible extending from the second ventral dorsal fin to the tail. Scales are not a feature of this family.
In terms of their size, bonito can be found between tuna and mackerel. The Atlantic bonito, for instance, can grow up to 30 inches in length and weigh between 11 and 13 pounds. Mackerel of any species, however, are smaller and usually only a few pounds. Tuna, however, is much larger.
What does Bonito taste like?
You’d expect something similar to a mixture of tuna and mackerel. You can expect flesh that isn’t quite as firm and a richer, more oily, fattier taste. Bonito is particularly good when it’s paired with strong flavors like those found in Spain and the Balkans.
Bonito that are younger and smaller will have flesh that is very much like skipjack tuna. It will be lighter in color, and more flavorful.
Bonito is considered a delicacy in many cultures. Nearly everyone agrees that it tastes great when grilled.
In the Balkans and Turkey, young bonito is often preserved and served with sliced red onion as mezze–snacks to accompany drinking and socializing.
It is a good idea to immediately bleed the fish after they are caught. This will enhance their flavor. They can quickly spoil so ice is essential.
You’ll see why bonito is so popular in other countries if you eat it properly.
Marmitako: Basque Bonito Stew with Potatoes
This recipe is adapted from the Spanish version, which uses tuna. This stew is a hearty, warming dish perfect for spring that brings Spain’s flavors to your table.
Preparation time: 45 min
- 2 dried ancho chiles or choristers
- Fresh bonito fillet 1 lb
- Salt to taste
- 4 russet potatoes, approximately 2 pounds in total weight
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 1 finely chopped yellow onion
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/2 green bell pepper, seeds and cut into thin strips lengthwise
- 1 tablespoon sweet pimento, paprika
Rehydrating dried chiles is the first step. Cover the dried chiles in boiling water and allow them to stand for 30 minutes. The water can be thrown away. Slice the chiles open and scrape the flesh with a knife.
Put aside the flesh.
The bonito can be cut into small pieces. Sprinkle with coarse salt, and place in a bowl.
Peel the potatoes. Each potato should be cut in half. Then, break the potato open. It is important to not cut off half of each potato. Place the potato pieces aside.
Heat the olive oil in a stockpot on medium heat. Stir in the vegetables and the flesh of the chiles. Sauté for 5 minutes over medium heat or until the bell pepper and onion have softened and become translucent.
Mix the potatoes with pimento. Add salt to taste and water to make sure the potatoes are covered by 2 inches. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook for approximately 30 minutes or until potatoes is tender.
Place the bonito pieces in a pot. Let the fish simmer for 5 minutes or until opaque.
Let cool on the stove for about 30 minutes, then let it rest.
To release more starch, I suggest mashing some potatoes with a form. Simply press the potatoes against the sides of the pot.
Heat gently until the desired temperature is reached.
Grilled Bonito Steaks
This easy recipe highlights the amazing flavor of bonito. Surely, you’ll love it if your favorite grilled fish is bonito.
Preparation time: 20 min
- Bonito steaks, 2 per head for a large portion. About one inch thick
- Sea salt
- black pepper
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tbs. Smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- The juice of one lemon
Start by seasoning the steaks with salt, pepper, garlic, paprika, and lemon juice. Cover the steaks with the marinade by gently rubbing them.
Marinated steaks should be placed in a pan and covered with aluminum foil or plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight.
Place the bonito steaks on a medium-high heat grill and cook for 2 to 3 minutes on each side or until they are cooked through. With a fork, the steaks should easily flake.
Serve immediately with an extra drizzle of olive oil.
Although bonito is often considered a baitfish by many anglers, it’s a popular Mediterranean fish that can be used to make delicious dishes.