by Kirsten Leong
In the recent blog Onaga dai Bonkei!, we shared one of the artistic and culturally significant preparations of bottomfish that we heard during interviews for the Hawai‘i Bottomfish Heritage project. We’re collaborating with the Pacific Islands Fisheries Group to document the history of bottomfishing in Hawai‘i by listening to stories from veteran fishers. The Western Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Council has also been a key partner and is helping us transcribe the interviews conducted over the past year. So far, 31 of 46 interviews have been transcribed, resulting in over 1200 pages of stories! To celebrate National Seafood Month, we searched the transcripts for favorite dishes and preparations from some of the most skilled bottomfish fishers in the state.
Onaga (long-tail red snapper) topped the list as the fish most people identified as their favorite. While it can be cooked many ways, it was most often described as one of the best species to be eaten raw, as sashimi and poke. Some mentioned that the smaller fish, 12 pounds or less, were better for sashimi. And of course it has to be fresh—ideally fewer than three days old! Local monchong were also mentioned as a good fish for sashimi, as it’s clean and not fishy, although many other species were mentioned as well.
The next most popular favorite was gindai (oblique-banded snapper), followed closely by hogo (scorpionfish). These species aren’t usually targeted, so they aren’t common in the market. They are typically enjoyed steamed, Chinese style. One interviewee even had a special pan for steaming fish for parties. Another explained:
…it’s steamed, red hot oil, soy sauce, ginger; steamed in ginger and onion, fresh ginger and onion, spices, cilantro on top. It’s just silky smooth. It’s beautiful. It’s a fatty fish. It’s a real nice rich fish to eat, and steaming, of course, is the way to do that kind of fish.
Other variations included oyster sauce, garlic, or chung choi (salted turnip), but all were finished by pouring sizzling hot oil over the fish.
Of course, many said that all of the “Deep 7” bottomfishes were delicious and versatile. Other preparations included dry rubbing, slicing, and deep frying with a sauce on the side (to keep the fish crispy); oven-baking with black bean paste, oil, cilantro, and oyster sauce; Japanese nabe soup; and even just frying with salt and pepper. In fact, more interviewees mentioned variations of fried preparations than any other style of cooking. However, they also noted:
People would say, oh, that’s a sin. If you can’t catch it [yourself], then it might be sinful for you to fry it. If you can [catch] it then that’s one thing. But if you can’t catch it, you better not fry it. You better steam it or eat it with some kind of sauce, or something.
In this interview segment, Kurt Kawamoto, NOAA Fish Biologist and key project partner who has fished for bottomfish in Hawaii for 40+ years, describes the first time he tasted his now favorite, hogo.
Others said that their favorite fish depended on what they felt like eating at the moment:
That’s a hard question because every fish has different texture, different taste and all of them are good.
It depends on how you want — or what you feel like — how it’s prepared also. Sometimes, I’m really ono for steamed fish, then, okay, look for this. Or if you want miso fish, then hogo is really good. I like hapu‘upu‘u. Monchong [pomfret], I really like, too. But the local bottomfish monchong [not] the longline monchong…you can eat it so many different ways!
A few interviewees said they didn’t eat much fish, or started to eat fish later in life. In this audio clip, Ralph Takafuji talks with Nash Kobayashi about how he learned to eat fish. Takafuji started fishing in ‘74, and Kobayashi started bottomfishing in ‘85.
We learned a lot about different ways to prepare bottomfish. This part of the interview made us all hungry!
This project was supported by NOAA Preserve America Initiative and a National Marine Fisheries Service Pacific Islands Region Cooperative Research grant.
For more information about this research feel free to contact us: firstname.lastname@example.org