Friday, July 17, 2015

Redroots Outdoor Kitchen - Wood Smoked Bonito

I am a firm believer in making lemons from lemonade, literally and figuratively. I apply this waste-not-want-not approach to just about everything, including fishing. As a responsible fisherman or hunter its your duty to take care of the resource, use what you catch and return what you don't, it's pretty simple. 

I'd love to say that this frugality is based on solely on conservation, its not entirely so. It's also driven by my desire to use off-the-beaten-path ingredients. In this case the much maligned Atlantic Bonito (and yes its Bonito, not Bonita as some people say) Its name means "beautiful" in Spanish and this little hunk of fishy goodness really is a looker. Silver with dark whimsical scrawl marking on its flanks. These little guys are plentiful, eager to bite and will give you a run for your money on light tackle. I love them for all those reasons, but most people don't, that's because they have very dark flesh and are a little gamier than most people care to eat. Europe is a different story, people love them over there and use them fresh, canned and every which way you can imagine. 

Atlantic Bonito; sarda sarda
Ruby red Atlantic Bonito fillets. Photo credit: blog

So when we ran into a nice Bonito bite a few miles off the coast of Ft.Pierce I decided I would make good use of these delicious little footballs. My approach was to fight fire with fire. Their flesh is bold and robust, so my approach was to season it the same way...and smoke it! 

First order of business, break it down! I butterflied this one for ease of smoking. Basically cut off the head, remove innards, cut all the way to the tail and "crack" in half, exposing the ribs and spine, remove them with a sharp fillet knife. And then, the most important part of the prep...remove the bloodline. This dark piece of flesh runs the length of the fillet and is responsible for 90% of the "fishiness" associated with Bonito. Thankfully it's easy to remove. Just make a "V" cut along each side of the fillet and pull out, done. 

Since I was treating it like game, I gave it a good soak in flavored brine overnight. For this I used:
  • 1 gallon water
  • 1 Cup kosher salt
  • 2/3 cup turbinado sugar
  • 4 bay leaves
  • the peel from a large lemon 
  • 3 garlic cloves
The next day I dried the fillet thoroughly and gave it light brush with some canola oil and a good rub with a variation of my rib rub, minus a few ingredients. Here is what I used (you'll have some leftover):

1/4 cup turbinado sugar 

1/8 cup kosher salt
2 Tbs Garlic salt
1 Tbs Onion powder
1 1/2 tsp Celery salt
1/4 cup Smoked Paprika
1 Tbs Chili powder
1 Tbs Fresh ground black pepper
1 1/2 tsp dried Sage
1/2 tsp ground Allspice
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
The finished product: Pecan smoked Bonito!

Once the prep is done you'll want to fire up your smoker. I used pecan wood for this particular recipe but you could also use applewood or cherry to good effect. Be sure to put a pan of water in the smoker to moisten the fish and give the grill a spray with some non-stick spray. Total smoke time was about 3 1/2 hours, low and slow, you'll know it's ready when the flesh flakes off. Enjoy sliced with lemon juice, on a cracker, or in fish dip.