Bring back the mack

IN this article I want to express that all fish species should be regarded as premium seafood and the label “premium” be used as the degree of care taken to dispatch, store and prepare the species instead of a commercial industry marketing tool.

The website Seafood Source labels premium seafood as being “seafood that contains attributes that drive product preference above normal demand”. Through research they have concluded that premium seafood is a marketing term that can reflect attributes including price, sustainability, branding, harvest method and origin. Consumers dictate significance depending on a species cultural or historical use; and popularity greatly differs based on consumer cultural heritage.

It’s completely acceptable that everyone has a favourite fish species they prefer to eat. When you make the decision to harvest your own fish you give yourself the opportunity to focus on species that you prefer to consume, one of the many beautiful things about harvesting your own fish.

Australia is fortunate to be surrounded by a variety of fish that fall under the traditional definition of “premium seafood”. This can result in a dogmatic appreciation of what is regarded as quality table fare. If you have been fishing long enough surely you have seen a change in the distribution of popular species leading to increased reliance on electronics, longer runs offshore and closer consideration of peak bite windows to better your chances and counter increased fishing pressure.

Fish stocks may never return back to the good old days, but self-consideration of spreading your own interest to a variety of table species will have a positive effect on future fish stocks in your local area.

My experience and conversations with varying anglers could be summed up with the saying “don’t knock it till you try it”. Popular cultural opinion generally dictates how a species table quality is determined. If it swims in the ocean I guarantee someone somewhere has recognised it as a precious commodity and has found the best way to utilise it.

Two species widely considered as bait are the blue “slimy” mackerel and yellowtail “yakka”. With a few simple techniques these abundant species can be utilised effectively to create many dishes. My favourite way to eat them is to butterfly the fish so that you are left with boneless fillets that are easy eat. When dealing with slimies and yakka it’s important that care is taken with sufficient bleeding and storage of these delicate fleshed fish.

Like most of you I am primarily using them as live bait so I almost always have them available and I find the perfect time to quickly take care of my fish by bleeding and icing them is while waiting for the boat trailer to be fetched. They are small, so I usually pack them away in large sandwich bags and submerge them into the ice slurry to prepare at home so they create minimal mess.

I’ll be demonstrating how to butterfly this blue mackerel, however the same process can be appropriated to almost any fish and most certainly to your yakka.

The second image illustrates the first three steps of the procedure first I give a little scale under and around the pectoral fin as there are small scales in this vicinity.

Second, I use a small knife along the back of the fish the image demonstrates the angle that I make the incision into the fish by using an acute angle your able to utilise the whole blade effectively creating a clean incision, I cut the fillet away from the frame on both sides of the fish down to the vertebrae. In the third step I split the head with scissors starting at the crown and cutting down towards the bottom of the jaw line.

The third image shows one of the fillets removed completely from the frame.

Notice that I have not penetrated the skin on the underside of the fish, the point of the knife is demonstrating the maximum cutting depth required for both sides of the fish. The scissors are showing where the rib bones connect to the vertebrae I use the scissors to snip the junctions paying close attention as to not cut into the gut cavity as piercing this will create unwanted mess.

The fourth image shows the guts and fish frame completely removed, I accomplish this by snipping through the spinal backbone at the tail and behind the head.

Once these cuts are completed the entire frame should pull away easily from the radial cartilage of the anal fin, this is also why I choose to butterfly fish in this fashion as the spine pulls away from the bottom of the fish a lot easier than it does from the top.

Next remove the gills by making one snip where the point of the scissors rest in image , this is the point the gills connect to the lower jaw following this cut they can be simply pulled out of there gill cavities.

Finally take the rib bones out in one piece by cutting them away from the fillets; for me sliding a knife behind the ribs then working your way upwards cutting them away from the pin bone works best. By cutting up instead of down through the join of these bones you reduce the chances of cutting too far into your fillets and damaging them.

The mackerel is now ready to be cured and pickled. I always do this before removing the pin bones as the curing process firms the flesh, which allows the pin bones to be easily removed with tweezers. The basic cure I use is 2-parts salt to 1-part sugar. Any type of salt and sugar will do, just get them packed into a container covering the butterflied fillets. You can also ad whatever spices you like, crushed coriander seeds always work a treat.

I leave the butterflied fish in the cure for 45-50 mins in the fridge, you will notice that the fillets will have released some moisture when you remove them from the cure. Give a quick rinse in cold water and submerge them into a pickle. The pickle is 3-parts ice cold water to 1-part vinegar. I always use brown rice vinegar or sushi vinegar for their balanced seasoning. Submerge your fillets in the pickle for 15 minutes, once done remove and pat fillets dry with paper towel.

The fillets are now ready to consume however I always caramelise the skin. The easiest way to do this is to use a blowtorch. Alternatively use a hot BBQ, or frying pan. I take it a step further by first brushing the skin with a liquid condiment like a honey soy marinade before caramelising. It is great for flavour, and also helps the skin caramelise rapidly as mackerel is best served rare to medium rare.

The condiments in the last image are fermented hot sauce (anything spicy and acidic will go well), cucumber, pepper and lemon. Ultimately this technique is very functional and can be eaten with whatever condiments you like best with fish.

For yakka I use the same cutting and pickling process, the fish in the image has been breaded then shallow fried skin side down in cottonseed oil till completely crisp and served on white bread with a tonkatsu sauce.

The tonkatsu sauce is made by reducing ¼ cup sake and ¼ cup apple juice by two thirds then while the sauce is still hot adding ¼ cup worchestershire 2 tbs soy, 2 tbs tomato sauce, 2 tbs honey, ½ small onion grated and 2 garlic cloves grated. Once you have added the grated onion and garlic immediately remove the sauce from the heat, and allow to cool. I use shredded cabbage and mayonnaise for garnish.

Fortunately as anglers we have broken the traditional supply chain of everyday consumers. This grants us the perfect opportunity to dodge the marketing and mishandling that occurs in the seafood supply chain. As well as Break down culturally imposed ideologies of quality and give species the care and respect they deserve from capture to consumption.

To conclude a good cook can utilise premium seafood a great cook can utilise anything and make it premium.

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