This “Trash Fish” Recipe Will Make You Think Twice About Throwing ‘Em Back
If you fish anywhere along the east coast or the Gulf of Mexico in the summer, you’ve undoubtedly run into your share of Bonita, or Little Tunny. They run in massive schools, put up an awesome fight and make for fantastic trolling and shark baits. And, they’re a charter captain’s go-to species to delight first time anglers.
But the food value is terrible, right?
Well, not really. If you prepare this “trash fish” the right way, it can be just as delicious as Blackfin Tuna. And by the right way, we mean smoked and turned into fish dip.
Today, we’ll show you how to turn that trash into treasure, and once you try this recipe, it’s a guarantee you keep more of them.
First, you’ll need to catch Bonita. If you’re an avid angler, you know this is the easy part. In summer, just troll some lures behind your boat on the outside of the reef, or where you see birds working. Here in South Florida, we troll between 100 feet of water and about 250 to find them. They’re impossible to avoid.
Once you’ve boated one, it’s very important to bleed it out. These fish have an awful lot of blood, which makes the meat taste metallic. To bleed it, you can either cut the gills with a sharp fillet or bait knife, or puncture the artery just behind the pectoral fin. Once the fish is bleeding, put it in an ice slurry so your deck doesn’t become a mess. After a bit, you can toss it into clean ice with the rest of your catch.
Once you’ve gotten a few, it’s time to head back in, to the fillet table. Properly filleting Bonita is the most important part of the entire recipe. If you’ve ever filleted one, you know why…
The fish is almost all purple bloodline, the reason most anglers don’t eat them.
Now, get a very sharp fillet knife, we suggest using this German Steel Knife, and clean the fish like any other. But don’t remove all of the meat from the skin. Leave a few millimeters of meat to make Bonita strip trolling baits…
Bonita strips are just one of the treasures this fish offers us.
Now, you should have two full, skinned fillets. You’ll notice the meat that lies outside the lateral line is much more pinkish than the rest. This is the meat to eat.
Carefully remove this pinker meat from the massive bloodline, wash it off and put it on ice.
Now you’re ready to make the dip!
If you’ve properly bled and cleaned the fish, there’s no need to soak the fillets in milk or anything else that “absorbs” the fishy flavor. In fact, you can eat the Bonita as sashimi. It’s not bad. A bit like blackfin, but somewhat “tinnier.”
But the absolute best way to utilize the meat is in the smoker, bar-non.
Here’s what you’ll need to make trash fish into treasure fish.
- 25 lbs. clean Bonita fillets
- 3 cups brown sugar
- 1 cup sea salt
- 2 tbs garlic powder
- 1 tbs black pepper
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper
- smoked Bonita (from 1.25 lbs fresh fillets)
- 1 lb. cream cheese
- 2 tsp paprika
- 2 tsp fresh dill
- 2 fresh jalapenos
- 4 tbs fresh green onion (scallions)
- 1 lemon
- salt and pepper to taste
- crackers, pita or plantain chips
Brine your fillets overnight (or at least 3 hours minimum) by mixing up all the brine ingredients in a bowl, then placing a layer on the bottom of a casserole dish. Put the fillets on top of that layer, then cover with the remaining mix and put it in the fridge.
Once your fillets are ready, remove them from the now liquid brine and wash them off. Fire up your smoker, aiming at 175 degrees.
You’ll want to smoke your Bonita fillets for at least two to three hours depending on thickness. The longer you smoke it, the better the flavor.
Once out of the smoker, let it cool off for a bit while you start preparing your dip mix.
If you have a food processor, get it out and put your soft cream cheese in. Begin mixing your cream cheese, while crumbling in your smoked Bonita.
Then, add your paprika, the juice of half a lemon, salt and pepper and mix.
Once well mixed, remove from the processor and put your dip in a large bowl. Here, you’ll need to mix in the fresh herbs. Add your green onion and fresh dill and fold them into the dip, adding the other half of the lemon juice.
Dust the dip with some paprika…
Sprinkle some fresh green onion atop…
Put your dip into the fridge for an hour or so…
Slice up your jalapenos and get your pita ready.
You can tell your guests they’re eating smoked tuna dip. They’ll never know the difference.