Today, October 16th …
Ichthyologists may not be in any doubt as to what, exactly, is bonito, but the rest of us can be forgiven for being confused, for not all that goes by the name is bonito, and much “bonito” is something else again. There is no doubt at all however about their value as a food source (whichever “bonito” is being discussed), as the captain of a ship engaged by Samuel Johnson and James Boswell during their journey in the Hebrides on this day in 1773 had found.
“ The captain informed us, he had named his ship the Bonnetta, out of gratitude to Providence; for once, when he was sailing to America with a good number of passengers, the ship in which he then sailed was becalmed for five weeks, and during all that time, numbers of the fish bonnetta swam close to her, and were caught for food; he resolved therefore, that the ship he should next get, should be called the Bonnetta.”
Bonito comes from the same family as mackerel and tuna, and the captain’s fish was probably the common Atlantic bonito (Sarda sarda). Sometimes the Atlantic bonito is called “skipjack”, but “skipjack” more commonly refers to skipjack tuna (Katsuwonus pelamis), but skipjack tuna is also sometimes called arctic bonito or oceanic bonito, and the very fine albacore tuna (Thunnus alalunga), caught off the coast of Northern Spain is called “Bonito del Norte”. The random naming problem is exacerbated by the confusion between bonito and mackerel, but luckily for those of us with a culinary rather than a zoological interest, it is an academic debate because they can all be cooked in the same way. Of course, if you want to temporarily confuse your guests even further you could cook your bonito / tuna / mackerel as you would quail, as in the following recipes.
Recipes for the Day …
The eighteenth century French cookbook writer Menon (his first name is not known), published his book 'La Cuisiniere bourgeoise' in 1748, and English translations appeared under several names shortly afterwards. Here are two slightly different versions of a recipe for “Mackeral cooked as Quail” from the 1769 and 1796 translations. Another puzzle: why have the recipes changed between editions? It does not seem to be a translation issue, as there are clear differences.
Maquereaux en Cailles; as Quails.
Cut one or two Mackerels, each in three Pieces; give them a few turns on the Fire with butter, chopped Parsley, Shallots, Mushrooms, Pepper and Salt; wrap up each Bit in Vine-leaves and a slice of Bacon, with some of the Seasoning; lay them separately on a Baking-sheet and pour the Remainder of the Seasoning in it, if any; bake them in the Oven; when almost done, strew Bread-crums over; put it back to take Colour; and serve all together with Sauce au Vin de Champagne, meaning Wine mixed with the Sauce. [The Professed Cook; 1769]
To dress Mackerel like Quails.
Cut them into three pieces and steep them in oil, with salt, pepper, parsley and scallions shred; then put them on an iron skewer with a thin rasher of bacon between each piece, as you do quails; pour over the marinate, that is to say the oil and herbs, and enclose the whole with paper. Then put it on the spit, and when the fish is done, with a knife collect all the herbs that stick to the paper and put them into a good sauce: grate bread over the mackerel and bacon, and when it is of a pale brown, serve them with the sauce in the dish. [The Complete Family Cook, 1796]
Tomorrow’s Story …
Recommended to the German Housewife.
Quotation for the Day …
I refuse to believe that trading recipes is silly. Tunafish casserole is at least as real as corporate stock. Barbara Grizzuti Harrison.
Bonita confused me in northern Spain, mostly it meant tuna, although atun was the regular word. Even more weirdly it was often transliterated as 'pretty' on restaurant menus. Pretty sandwiches were too nice an idea to resist.
Oceanic (not Atlantic) Bonito are often called Skipjack and they have stripes on the bottom.
The picture attached to this article is an Atlantic Bonito, not an Oceanic Bonito (Skipjack).
Dear "Anonymous" - Thanks for clarifying this. The multiple and overlapping names for the various species of tuna (and related fish) are incredibly confusing - clearly, I did not do a very good job of sorting them out.
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